In follow-up to the article I wrote last month on protein, this month, let’s talk carbs! (If you missed last month’s article, you can find it here).
Unfortunately, carbs have acquired a negative connotation due to those that feel strongly towards a no-carb and/or low-carbohydrate nutritional approach. Truth being, there is no one best nutritional approach and I am not suggesting one approach over the other. Truly, the best nutritional approach is the one that is most sustainable to help one achieve their goals.
Carbohydrates (carbs) benefit us in that they are a great source of energy. However, it is important to balance our carbohydrate intake with our activity levels. If one is not very active, their carbohydrate requirements are likely lower compared to someone who is more active and exercises regularly. Whereas last month I mentioned how many people are challenged with eating enough protein, that is generally not the same problem with carbs. While I have met people who are not eating enough carbs to support their goals, I have observed many others that are eating more carbs than their current activity level requires.
It should be noted that not all carbs are created equal. I encouraged readers to refer to a Precision Nutrition Infographic on my website (under Blogs & Resources) last month regarding protein…and I encourage readers this month to review recommended carb sources on that same infographic. As with anything, there are foods we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, and “eating less” of. Whereas the quantity of carbs is a strong influence on your overall weight…the quality of carbs is a strong influence on your overall health. In other words, consuming pop tarts regularly is going to yield a different body than one nourished by fruits and vegetables. Please note, this is not to say you never eat a pop tart…but they should make up a very small part of what you regularly eat (i.e. “eat less”).
Choosing carbs that are rich in fiber will help support feelings of satiety, or fullness. (Last month, we also discussed how adequate protein helps us feel the same). Someone who chooses carbs from the “eat more” such as beans, fresh or frozen fruit, or potatoes (white or sweet), are going to feel fuller longer versus those who eat from the “eat less” category. These slower-digesting carbs also help promote more stable blood sugar management. On the other hand, faster-digesting carbs (juices, soft drinks, cookies, cakes, muffins, i.e. “eat less” foods) will not help promote feelings of fullness and get a person started on an eating roller coaster throughout the day as they chase highs and lows with their blood sugar.
In addition, carbs (primarily those from the “eat more” category) are also a source of vitamins and minerals to support our body’s internal processes and overall health. A general good rule of thumb is to choose your carbs from the outskirts of the supermarket. Generally speaking, the least nourishing foods are those found in the interior aisles. For example, an apple you buy from the produce section has 5 grams of fiber and is a natural source of calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. On the other hand, a serving of applesauce contains 1 gram of fiber, does have some potassium and calcium (often added in during processing), but does not contain iron or vitamin A. Not to mention, because the applesauce requires far less chewing than an actual apple, you are also likely not going to feel the same satisfaction from eating it that you would from eating a nice, crunchy apple.
It is possible to eat too much of a good thing. Even if you ate carbs only from the “eat more” list, you could still be eating beyond what your body requires. That is why it is essential to eat according to your body’s activity demands. Someone who sits at a desk 8 hours a day then goes home to sit on the couch and watch TV needs far less carbs than one who gets 10,000 steps a day and exercises 3-5 days per week.
Just as we discussed preparing protein in bulk to help us accomplish our goals, we can certainly prepare carbs that are healthier for us in bulk as well. For example, you can wash your apples as soon as you bring them home from the store…this way, all you have to do is grab the apple from the fridge when you are ready and just enjoy! Or, one of my favorites is to cut up some baby potatoes or some sweet potatoes and roast them up and then portion them out to enjoy with various meals throughout the week. One of my go-to snacks are baby carrots and I like to even put them in some to-go containers or baggies ahead of time so that I always have a healthy snack ready and available. Ultimately, anything you can do to help make healthier choices easier will help you in the long run!
In closing, the way we nourish our body says a lot about how much we love our body. I encourage you to do more for yourself (and for others) coming from a place of love. Making the effort to move our bodies purposefully is an act of love towards our body. Making the conscious choice to nourish our bodies well is also an act of love towards our body. Furthermore, these acts of love towards our bodies also demonstrate our love to the important people in our lives as we will be able to enjoy a more fulfilling and vibrant life with them when we strive to be the healthiest version of ourselves.
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their August issue.