As a kid, I remember being taught that carbohydrates are the “evil’” foods, prompting me to avoid them like the plague. Now that I’m a grown-up, I’ve learned that carbohydrates aren’t all bad – in fact, they play a crucial role in our health. The problem is that most people don’t know how to eat them in a way that benefits their bodies rather than risks causing damage.
While some foods are undoubtedly good for our bodies, others are highly problematic, and it’s important to learn how to identify and avoid them. This article will delve into the truth about carbohydrates and how to make the most of them while minimizing the risk of harm.
The Pros And Cons Of Carbs
Before we dive into the pros and cons of carbs, it’s important to note that not all carbs are created equal. There are simple carbs and complex carbs, and while the former is usually consumed in excess and risks causing health problems (think: white rice, white pasta, and sugar), the latter can be nutritious and play an important role in a healthy diet (think: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and fruits).
To begin with, let’s discuss the positive aspects of carbohydrates. First off, they’re a great source of energy for your body. One cup of cooked brown rice contains about 150 calories, and one cup of cooked pasta or couscous contains about 160 calories. That’s a lot of fuel for your body! Second, some carbohydrates are good for your brain. The human brain relies on carbs for its growth and maintenance. Third, they can act as a sponge for some minerals such as calcium and iron, so they’re good for your bones. Finally, some carbohydrates can act as a natural painkiller. Let’s look at the cons now.
The Problem With Simple Carbs
As we’ve established, not all carbs are created equal, and it’s important to recognize that not all simple carbs are made equal, either. For example, it’s a common misconception that all white carbs are created equal. White bread, white rice, and most other white foods are highly processed and, as a result, contain a lot of harmful additives. These additives can wreak havoc on your body and prompt you to store more fat, gain weight, and experience other health problems. Here’s a rough breakdown of the pros and cons of white carbs:
- Pros: Provides energy.
- Cons: Hormones and Additives (honest, white bread can be highly processed and contain additives, such as yeast, sugar, and wheat germ).
- Not ideal for those who want to lose weight.
- Might raise blood sugar levels (in some cases, dangerously so).
The Benefits Of Complex Carbs
Now we’ll discuss the benefits of complex carbs, which are more nutritious than simple carbs and less likely to cause health problems in the first place. First off, complex carbs are better for your heart. The American Heart Association recommends that you have a diet rich in whole grains, legumes, and vegetable matter in order to reduce your risk of heart disease. This is because complex carbs provide your body with fiber, which helps maintain a healthy digestive system and protects against colon cancer. Second, they provide necessary nutrients for your body. One cup of cooked brown rice and one cup of cooked pasta contain about 400 calories and provide your body with 4.8 grams of protein, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 14 grams of fiber, and 830 milligrams of sodium. That’s a lot of nutrition for just two servings! Third, complex carbs are a good source of B vitamins, which are important for both your nervous system (such as nerve impulses and cell reproduction) and your metabolism (such as energy and endurance). Finally, complex carbohydrates provide necessary nutrients for your skin and hair, making them great for overall health and beauty. Let’s look at the pros and cons of complex carbs:
- Pros: Lower in calories and better for your heart and digestive system.
- Cons: May raise your cholesterol levels (in some cases, dangerously so).
- Not ideal for those who want to lose weight.
- May not be a good source of fiber and B vitamins.
- Might reduce your body’s ability to fight off infection.
The Difference In How Your Body Processes The Two Types Of Carbs
Now that we’ve established the differences between simple and complex carbs, let’s discuss how your body processes the two. Your digestive system breaks down food into nutrients that your body can use, and when it comes to carbs, this process is a little different for the two kinds. For instance, after you eat a simple carb, such as white rice or white pasta, it will be broken down directly into glucose, which is the form of sugar that your body uses as fuel. On the other hand, a complex carb, such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or quinoa, is broken down into glucose and then stored in your liver as glycogen. This gives you a bit of an energy boost because your liver already has what it needs in reserve (i.e., if you haven’t eaten for a couple of days), which means that a complex carb will leave you feeling more energetic than a simple carb.
While this might seem like a good thing, it also means that if you overdo it and eat too many complex carbs, you run the risk of storing too much insulin in your pancreas. This is bad because, among other things, excess insulin can cause you to store fat and have trouble losing weight. Here’s a rough breakdown of how insulin works and how your body uses it:
- Insulin serves as a storage hormone, storing excess calories as fat (in most cases).
- Eating complex carbs prompts your pancreas to release insulin, and in turn, this insulin stimulates your liver to store more fat.
- When you eat too much sugar, your body starts to crave it and will do whatever it can to satisfy that craving, including storing more fat and having trouble losing weight.
Which Type Of Carbs Should You Eat?
Now that you know the pros and cons of each type of carb, you’re in a position to make a more informed decision about what constitutes a healthy diet. Ideally, you want to eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in sodium, so you’re well on your way to a healthier lifestyle. What remains to be seen is whether or not you want to increase your intake significantly. That’s a personal choice and something that you and your doctor should discuss.
As for the specific types of carbs that you should eat, here’s a helpful guide:
- Avoid white carbs (sugar, white rice, and white pasta) as much as possible. Instead, opt for brown (or whole wheat) carbohydrates.
- Eat a lot of veggies (especially cruciferous ones like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale).
- Avoid fruit juices, which are often loaded with empty calories.
- Eat legumes (beans, lentils, and peas) rather than grains (rice, wheat, and so on).
To recap: when it comes to carbs, not all are created equal, and it’s important to learn how to identify and avoid the bad ones (white carbs). Instead, opt for complex carbs (such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa) that are good for your skin and hair as well as your health in general. As for the pros and cons of these complex carbs, they’re usually lower in calories and have fewer negative effects than their white counterparts. So, in general, complex carbs are a better choice than their white counterparts. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eat some pasta…