Not All Carbs are Created Equal

Not All Carbs are Created Equal

Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients that we need to get from our diet; fats and proteins are the other two in case you’re wondering. All vegetables, fruits, sugars, grains, nuts, seeds, and beans are considered carbohydrates. Carbs are important because they give you fiber, provide energy, and supply important vitamins and minerals.

In simplest terms, there are 2 kinds of carbohydrate foods: simple carbs (also called “fast carbs”) and complex carbs (also called “slow carbs”). The body reacts to these two kinds very differently because they have different effects on insulin- the hormone that is responsible for managing blood sugar in the body.

Complex carbs:

These include starches, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.  Complex carbs take longer than simple carbs to breakdown by the body, so they don’t result in such a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a fast “dip in energy”. These types of carbs are used over time for steady energy, and also provide lots of other nutrients too.

What makes these kinds of carbs good for you?

  • Complex carbs are broken down by the body into glucose and then used for energy and to repair muscle and bodily tissue. These release insulin more slowly into the blood stream, which is a good thing.
  • They are especially important for people who exercise- since they fuel anaerobic activity. We need carbs most after exercise- this is when we have to restore glucose in body so we are able to keep functioning, rebuilding, and growing even stronger
  • The exact number of complex carbs you need each day depends on a lot on your unique body and physical activity level. For most people, aiming to have a small portion (about ½ cup) of starchy complex carbs like potatoes, grains, or brown rice with each main meal is a good amount.

Simple carbs:

Simple carbs are food groups including: all fruit, fruit juice, all forms of sugar (white, brown, coconut palm, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, any “syrups”, honey, pure maple syrup, and all sugary products (cookies, sugary cereal, etc.).

What makes simple carbs different from complex carbs?

  • Simple sugars already have their sugars broken down and are used quickly by the body for a fast energy boost.
  • These foods cause an “insulin spike” in the blood (because that’s our body’s way of bringing blood sugar back into balance) and too much insulin can lead to weight gain, moodiness, and even diabetes
  • Normally simple carbs come in the form of boxed junk foods and you want to avoid them, with the exception to this rule being fruit. Fruit is a simple carb because it contains a kind of sugar called fructose, and this is used by the body quickly and easily. However fruit also contains antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients
  • Most people do best staying away from all simple carbs except for fruit. It’s usually recommended to have about 2-3 pieces of fresh, whole fruit per day; the more active you are, the more you can afford to have.