When people say "carbs" like it's a dirty word, it can be confusing. This mainly refers to refined carbohydrates, not whole natural carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are one of three primary macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat).
Carbohydrates include simple sugars (like glucose, fructose, and galactose), and more complex molecules like starches and cellulose (plant fibres). We usually think of carbs like cookies, bread, pasta and other refined food. These foods are full of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats.
But they aren't the carbs that we should be eating.
The carbs we need for energy are whole carbohydrates. Whole carbohydrates include pretty much all fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. (You'd be surprised at how much protein is in certain vegetables, but that's the next blog topic.) The most delicious and healthiest foods in the world are composed mostly of carbohydrates.
Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains, in their complete form, are the healthiest foods we can eat.
They provide us with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fibre, and are a source of energy. They have antioxidants that neutralise free radicals to help us look and feel our best. Natural carbohydrates help to fight cancer and reduce anxiety and depression.
Refined carbohydrates cause glucose and fructose to enter your bloodstream and overload your liver quickly. Your blood sugar rises, triggering an insulin surge that makes your body store fat. The blood sugar crash an hour or two later makes you hungry, and then you start the cycle again.
Whole, natural carbs are absorbed slowly into your system, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. This provides our bodies with sustained energy and helps us to feel full for longer. And it's not just our bodies that need carbs for energy. They are the primary source of energy for our brain.
Our brains need carbohydrates to function; not getting enough carbs in your diet can increase problems with basic mental functioning. | 2008 Tufts University study
Here are seven reasons why you need to include whole (complex) carbohydrates in your diet:
1. Your brain will work better
Your brain runs on glucose, and you get glucose from carbs. Lack of energy decreases your brain’s ability to think, learn, and remember things.
2. Reduce bloating
Good carbohydrates, like whole grains and fruits and veggies, contain a lot of fibre which helps keep your bowel movements regular. You're less likely to feel puffy as your body will eliminate waste more efficiently.
3. You'll feel happier
Most carbohydrates contain tryptophan, which helps produce the feel-good hormone serotonin in your brain. When you don't have enough tryptophan and serotonin, you may have trouble sleeping and be more prone to depression.
4. You'll have more energy
Carbohydrates contain glucose, which is the number one source of fuel for your body. If you get the carbs right it will mean that your body has the energy it needs for functioning at its best. And that means healthy, radiant skin. The other macronutrients - protein and fat - are also energy, but carbs are number one.
5. They give you a vitamin and mineral boost
Whole grains contain lots of B vitamins, which help your body make energy from food and help you make red blood cells. Fruits and veggies are packed with essential nutrients like vitamins B and C.
6. Prevent heart disease
Research shows that whole grain carbohydrates, like bread and pasta and rice, help reduce your chance of heart disease and lower your cholesterol levels.
7. They're yummy
Most of us love carbs because they're delicious. If you eliminate something from your diet, you'll be more tempted to binge on it.
Why deprive yourself of something delicious and healthy that will also give your body the fuel it needs to get you through your day and repair and rejuvenate your body?
When you reduce or eliminate refined, processed foods and replace them with whole, natural foods you’ll be giving yourself the energy you need to look and feel your best.
Your skin and hair are at the bottom of your body’s priority list when it comes to energy. Even though skin, hair and nails are important to us, they aren’t necessary for survival. So if your energy reserves and intake are low they won’t be getting any. If you’re feeling blah and your skin, nails and hair aren’t looking their best, it might be time to check the balance and quality of your carbohydrate intake.
As a guide, around 50% of your daily energy intake should be from whole natural carbs.
Refined carbs (cake, cookies, chips and most snack foods) are best as an occasional treat. Try substituting them with fruit or nuts.
How to estimate your daily carb intake
First, estimate your ideal daily energy intake using this handy tool. Then multiply that number by 50% to get a daily range of carb kilojoules. Then divide that by 17 (the kilojoules in a gram of carbohydrate).
Here's an example based on an 8870 kilojoule-per-day intake:
- Multiply 8870 by 0.50 (50%) to get 4435 kilojoules.
- Divide 4435 kilojoules by 17 = 261 grams.
So if your daily energy intake is 8870, your target range for total carbohydrate is around 261 grams each day. Most of that should come from complex carbohydrates.
Do you know what your daily intake of carbs should be?
This is a general guide only, please consult your health professional if you have any health concerns.
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