Carbohydrates. To some, this is a word that invokes happiness, while in others it invokes complete disdain.
Over the past few years carbs have gotten a really bad reputation, yet it wasn’t until a friend came to me with a question that pushed me to finally stand up and fight for them. My friend enjoys eating a banana in the evening and told this to another friend of hers. Her response was: “You have to stop doing that! Bananas are full of starch and will make you fat.” WHAT? Thankfully, my friend didn’t think this sounded right and asked me to clear the air. So, with that I said: “No, bananas will not ‘make you fat.’”
When did this shift in carbs being bad for you happen? Carbohydrates are actually incredibly vital to the body working correctly. The brain functions on glucose, which is the derivative of carbs. That means if you are eliminating carbs from your diet, then you are depriving your brain and forcing your body to convert other molecules into forms of energy it can use. Also, when you are working out or being active, carbs are your muscles’ main source of fuel. So if you want to run longer, bike further, do barre better, or push harder in a sport, you have to have a store of carbs in your muscles. This isn’t just limited to the endurance athlete; it affects those that want to build muscle, too.
… if you are eliminating carbs from your diet, then you are depriving your brain [of glucose] and forcing your body to convert other molecules into forms of energy it can use.
To have the best outcome of building protein you need to have an insulin response post-workout, and that comes from pairing carbs with protein. People who eat carbs at a moderate level have also been shown to be happier than those that follow a low carb diet, and choices higher in fiber have been shown to help with weight maintenance.
We can see our bodies’ need for carbohydrates. So are carbs really the bad guy? Or could it be the food choices and food industry of today? When high fat diets were found to be associated with heart disease, the governing entities decided that we needed to eat a lower fat diet. This shifted the overall percentage of each food group with fat being decreased and carbohydrates being increased. This also shifted how food was made. When you remove fat from a food item you lose a lot of flavor. The food industry’s answer to this was to add a cheap sugar derivative to foods that would make them taste good and appeal to this lower fat diet.
We’re now seeing the outcome of this choice. Overweight and obesity are more of an issue today than ever before and this has lead to many proclaiming that low carb diets are the answer to all things health related. Rather than seeing the real issue — how food is made and what we’re choosing to put in our bodies — we try and single out a food group to achieve a quick fix. We also need to remember that low carb diets or gluten free diets were designed for individuals suffering from specific medical conditions like epilepsy, celiac disease, or severe obesity. They weren’t intended for healthy, normal-weight individuals.
So, remember that carbohydrates are actually good for us — especially when the holiday season is upon us! We shouldn’t have to miss out on food because it doesn’t fit in with our low carb diet of the day. However, there are definitely better carb choices than others that we should be aware of.
Here are some suggestions for healthy sources of carbohydrates:
The great grains we should eat more of are quinoa, farro, brown rice, bulgar, and oats. These are great additions to the diet and provide a great source of carbohydrates. Try adding these to a salad of your choice or making a unique side dish with a twist.
Beans, or legumes, are a great source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Recipes containing legumes like black beans, chickpeas, or kidney beans are a great replacement for the more starchy carbohydrate, potatoes.
In The Garden
Fruits and vegetables should still be the base of all of our diets. Bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, squash, and carrots are all good sources of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. We also can’t forget about all the other nutrients that fruits and vegetables provide and focus just on carbohydrates.
Anytime you mention carbs the brain automatically goes to bread. Bread doesn’t make you fat, but it also shouldn’t be our main source of nutrition. Remember that there are many different forms of food to get our carbs from and they don’t always have to be found in the bread aisle. When you do choose to have bread, choose a whole grain variety that is higher in fiber.
The first hurdle we have to get over when dealing with food is knowledge and the second is finding balance.
Even with these better carb choices, we need to remember this word: moderation. The first hurdle we have to get over when dealing with food is knowledge and the second is finding balance. Even though carbs are good for us, we have to remember that we can’t have only carb filled meals – even if that’s what some of us want! Balance and moderation are the keys to a healthy lifestyle, which remains in play even during the holidays.
Image via Ana Kamin