An Unrequited Love Story

Shakespeare may have once famously written, ”For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Clearly,he never knew of the tragic love story between carbs and the waistline.

Carbohydrates. What are they? Why are they so delicious? And why do they get a bad rap?

Let’s break it down. A carbohydrate is defined as “any large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose.”1 An easier way to explain this is that “carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products.”2  

These compounds can be grouped into two different categories: simple and complex. 

Simple Carbohydrates (a.k.a. The “Bad” Carbohydrates)

Simple carbohydrates, also known as refined carbs, can be found naturally in milk products, fruits and vegetables. However, they are also found in foods containing processed and refined sugars such as soft drinks, baked goods, and cereal. The latter is what gives carbs a bad reputation, as those type of foods can be unhealthy for your body and lead to disease if too many are consumed. This is because refined and processed sugars are considered “empty calories”, meaning they do not have vitamins, minerals or fiber, which can lead to weight gain.3

Complex Carbohydrates (a.k.a. The “Good” Carbohydrates) 

Complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides, are known to digest slower than simple carbs and are packed full of nutrients for your body. That makes these foods more filling, which helps aid in weight control.4 It also helps in providing the body more energy over longer periods of time.5 A few examples of complex carbohydrates are broccoli, grains, and beans.

If you’re still unsure what makes certain carbs “good” versus “bad”, some helpful distinctions are as follows:6

Bad carbs are: 

  • High in calorie density
  • Full of refined sugars, like corn syrup, white sugar, honey and fruit juices
  • High in refined grains like white flour
  • Low in many nutrients
  • Low in fiber
  • High (often very high) in sodium
  • Sometimes high in saturated fat
  • Sometimes high in cholesterol and trans fats

Good carbs are:

  • Low or moderate in calorie density
  • High in nutrients
  • Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
  • High in naturally occurring fiber
  • Low in sodium
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Very low (often zero) cholesterol, and no trans fats

The Benefits of Carbs on the Body

While not all carbs are created equal, our bodies do need them to function. In fact, the right type of carbs can help benefit our bodies in multiple ways.

1. Heart Health

Carbohydrates high in fiber help lower LDL-cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) levels7, which  can contribute to a plaque-like deposit that clogs arteries and makes them less flexible.

2. Weight Loss

Again, the right type of carbohydrates can help with weight loss due to fiber. Dietary fiber helps the body feel full8. Therefore, you’re less likely to over eat.

3. Mental Health 

This is tricky because there have been studies showing both positive and negative effects of carbohydrates on the brain. It’s not exactly about carbs in general, but the type of carbs you’re consuming – do you see a trend here? Stick with complex carbohydrates over simple.

The Takeaway 

The important thing to keep in mind is that there are three different types of carbohydrates: starch, sugar and fiber. Furthermore, carbohydrates can be broken down into two categories known as simple and complex. Depending on your own unique body composition and health history, it may be best to consult your doctor before deciding what changes to make in your diet.

Interested in finding out more about carbohydrates and their effect on the body? Check out some other Living Healthy articles on the topic below!

When Cutting Carbs Becomes Extreme | Q+A

‘Healthy’ Carbohydrates for Weight Loss – fact or fiction?

Low Carb Food Choices | Q+A

No Carb Diet? Think Twice, You Need Carbohydrates to Survive!

Is it true that I need to limit my fruit consumption because fruits are high in sugar and carbohydrates?

Sources:

  1. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/carbohydrate
  2. Szalay, Jessie. “What Are Carbohydrates?” LiveScience. Purch, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 June 2017.
  3. Ibid
  4. Cherney, Kristeen. “Simple Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 30 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 June 2017.
  5. Rodriguez, Diana. “Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates.” EverydayHealth.com. Everyday Health, 07 June 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.
  6. Killoran, Eugenia. “Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs – What Are You Eating?” Pritikin.com. Web. 2017.
  7. Szalay, Jessie. “What Are Carbohydrates?” LiveScience. Purch, 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 June 2017.
  8. Ibid


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