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Your No BS Guide to Carbs

Your No BS Guide to Carbs
Contents
Contents

“All carbs are bad for you.”

“Carbs contain too much sugar.”

“You will feel sleepy after eating carbs.”

“Protein is more important than carbs.”

“Only potatoes, pasta, and bread are categorized as carbs.”

What if we told you that all the above comments are misleading? It’s true. These carbohydrate misconceptions confuse people who want to eat cleaner or healthier foods, often making them question their choices.

Carbs are a debatable subject of conversation when it comes to just about anything related to improving health.

In this edition of our newsletter, we’ll help you understand the different types of carbs, the difference between simple and complex carbs, and address common carb questions and confusions. We’ll also delve into healthy sources of simple and complex carbs and help you decide how to choose the right carbs.

So, What Exactly are Carbs? And should you be Eating Them?

As with most discussions around nutrition, there are no black-and-white answers. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are one type of macronutrient that provides the body with energy; the other two are protein and fat. Carbs fall into three main categories: sugars, starches, and fiber.

Sugars

Sugars are a type of simple carb, usually referred to as “simple sugars.” (More on simple carbs later.)

Sugars can be natural or added based on which foods they are found in. For example, fruits contain natural sugars, whereas processed foods contain added sugars that are bad for health. Both types of sugar are considered carbs.

Starches

Starches are a type of complex carb made up of numerous simple sugars linked together. For example, pasta, cereal, and bread all contain starches. Vegetables, like potatoes, peas, and corn, also contain starch.

Fiber

Fiber is a type of complex carb, and most people do not realize that it’s one of the healthiest carbs you can eat! Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains are just a few examples of plant-based foods containing fiber.

Fun fact: Each gram of sugar and starch contains 4 calories, and each gram of fiber contains 2 calories.

This infographic should help you quickly understand how carbohydrates can be classified.

Difference Between Complex & Simple Carbs

The chemical composition of food and the rate at which your body breaks it down determine whether it is a complex or simple carb.
Read This: Understanding the Different Types of Sugar & What They Do to Your Body

What are Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrates are sometimes referred to as”good carbohydrates” because it takes the body longer to break down their longer sugar molecules.

When you eat complex carbs, glucose will be released constantly throughout the day, and you can avoid experiencing “highs and lows.” These fluctuations are bad for your health because sudden sugar spikes can adversely affect your body.

(We’ve added a detailed breakdown of how sugar spikes impact your health below under the simple carbs section of the article.)

What Makes Complex Carbs Nutritious?

They typically contain higher levels of essential nutrients, such as fiber and B vitamins, compared to foods with a higher concentration of simple carbohydrates. This prevents blood sugar levels from rising too quickly, lowers cholesterol, and promotes digestive health.

Also, these foods naturally include minerals and phytochemicals (beneficial substances present in plant-based foods that might aid in preventing chronic illnesses, including cancer.)

Some of the healthiest complex carbs include

• Whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, millet like raggi, barley, and quinoa

• Beans and legumes like lentils (dal), kidney beans (rajma), and chickpeas (channa)

• Non-starchy vegetables such as radishes, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, pumpkin, or spouts.

• Starchy vegetables, including sweet potatoes and corn.

What are Simple Carbs?

Simple carbohydrates are sugars. They can be produced commercially and added to foods to sweeten or preserve them or found naturally in fruits and other foods. Almost all desserts, processed foods, and aerated beverages contain simple sugars, which can harm your body in the long run.

Simple Carbs & Sugar Spikes

Since simple carbs are quickly broken down by the body and converted to energy, they can lead to sugar spikes. This ‘instant’ energy is something many people crave to get through a long, tiring day. But, ultimately, it works against you. The sugar high is usually followed by a “low,” which prompts you to eat another snack or a bigger meal. It can turn into a vicious cycle of consuming unhealthy simple carbs to keep you feeling energized. This will lead to weight gain and put you at risk for health problems. The spikes can also lead to insulin resistance, which can cause Type 2 diabetes.

Here’s how this worksIf you keep eating unhealthy carbs or simple sugars, your body must produce insulin to carry the glucose to cells.

The cells may become resistant to insulin or stop responding normally to the hormone over time. This can lead to a sugar buildup in your blood, causing you to develop diabetes.

The immediate effects of a sugar spike can be headaches and constant urination, and the long-term results include kidney damage as well as the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Do All Simple Carbs Lead to Negative Effects?

No. Simple sugars are also naturally present in milk and fruits in the form of lactose or fructose. Healthy carbs include dried fruits like dates, raisins, and apricots and fresh, healthy fruits like apples, oranges, or bananas. They contain fiber, which slows down digestion and helps gut health.

Answering Common Questions About Carbs

Will You Feel Sleepy After Eating Carbs?

Only if you choose unhealthy sources of carbs like added sugars, refined grains, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages instead of nutrient-rich ones.

Why? Your body may overproduce insulin in response to a large meal that is high in unhealthy carbohydrates. When this happens, your blood sugar levels may drop below average, and you may feel worn out and sleepy, resulting in post-meal sluggishness.

What Happens to your Body When you Eat Carbs?

Your body converts all carbohydrates into glucose. The hormone insulin facilitates the transfer of glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells. And all of the cells in a person’s body use glucose as

  • A constant supply of energy for bodily processes
  • A quick and immediate source of energy when working out or doing physically demanding work
  • A supply of energy that the body keeps in its muscles or liver and releases when necessary.

Are Proteins More Important Than Carbs?

The right balance of protein and carbohydrates in your diet can reduce your risk for chronic conditions. Considering one more important than the other is unwise. A high-protein and low-carb diet may not be the healthiest choice over the long term. It has been associated with the risk of osteoporosis.

Consuming excessive amounts of protein also strains the kidneys. People with kidney disease or diabetes must be careful not to overload their kidneys by consuming too much protein daily.

Depriving yourself of carbohydrates can also impact your muscles and brain, which both require glucose (the energy obtained from digesting carbohydrates) to function correctly.

Are All Carbs Bad?

No. The concept of ‘good and bad carbs’ has coloured the conversation around this essential nutrient to the point that making a simple choice about what to eat has become a very challenging thing.

Carbs are complicated. We get it. There are no straightforward answers, and educating yourself about the different types and how they affect you on an individual level is the safest way to take the right step.

We understand that it can be tough to make daily food choices, considering the relationship between carbs and health is so complex, so we’ve included a section below on some of the most common foods people find confusing.

Addressing Carb Controversies

Haven’t we all found ourselves in a heated argument about the benefits of brown bread over white bread or brown rice over white rice?

We’re here to help you put these arguments to rest once and for all.

Wheat vs. Rice – What’s the Difference?

Here is an infographic that compares the nutritional value of white rice and wheat flour.

Traditionally, chapatis (made of wheat grains) are considered more nutritious than white rice. In many Indian homes, people opt for the former over the latter if they are weight-watching or managing chronic health conditions like diabetes or PCOS. But does this help?

Although rice and roti have an equal amount of carbohydrates and calories, they are not nutritionally equivalent.

Fiber

Rotis are primarily made from whole wheat flour, which is rich in fiber. On the other hand, white rice has had its fiber-rich husk and bran removed, giving it a white appearance.

Digestion

Compared to rice, roti digests more slowly; as a result, it keeps you full for longer. Due to its high starch content, rice is easier to digest. But this also means you end up feeling hungry sooner after eating a meal with rice.

Glycemic Index

Compared to wheat, white rice has a higher glycemic index, which means it raises blood sugar more quickly. You will likely experience hunger pangs after a meal heavy in white rice unless you pair it with other healthy carbs or balance it out with proteins. When it comes to chronic conditions like PCOS or diabetes, where blood sugar levels and weight gain are a concern, rotis are advisable.

The glycemic index (GI) is an indicator of how much a particular food will raise blood sugar levels. Foods are rated from 0 to 100 and categorized as low, medium, or high glycemic foods.

Low glycemic index foods absorb less sugar into the bloodstream, which lowers the risk of developing diabetes and makes it easier to manage. Again, brown rice regulates blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes due to its high magnesium and fiber content.

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: What’s the Difference?

Brown rice is a whole grain, including the nutritious germ, the fibrous bran, and the carb-rich endosperm of the grain. In contrast, white rice is actually brown rice that has been polished and milled, removing the bran and germ layers. B vitamins and iron are reintroduced because nutrients are lost during this process.

Interestingly, brown rice has more antioxidants, vitamins, & minerals than white rice. Due to its high fiber content, brown rice prevents hunger pangs. On the other hand, white rice contains less fiber.

Brown Bread vs. White Bread: Which is Healthier?

If you’re trying to make a choice between brown and white bread, it’s important to remember that manufacturers occasionally add color to white bread to make it look brown. Check the ingredient list for the word ‘caramel’. This suggests that the bread has been coloured.

The good news for brown bread fans? Authentic brown bread made from whole wheat has more fiber and nutrients than white bread. It also contains magnesium, folic acid, zinc, copper, manganese, and vitamin E, which help to improve immunity, reduce inflammation, and improve skin health.

Lastly, brown bread has a lower glycemic index than white bread; as a result, it won’t lead to sugar spikes.

How Do You Decide Which Carbs You Should Eat?

Choosing a carbohydrate should be a personal decision. Remember, you need to personalize your diet plan and include carbs that are good for you – based on your nutritional requirements.

It’s also important to understand that ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ mean different things for different people. It entirely depends on your specific health goals or any existing health conditions that you live with.

For example, someone struggling with gut health will benefit from eating complex carbs like potatoes, oats, and simple carbs like apples. On the other hand, if your goal is to lose weight or control blood sugar levels, you probably want to focus on high-fibre foods like lentils, m​​illets or green veggies.

While we like to think that some food sources count as healthy carbs and some are unhealthy – it’s not so clear-cut.

Many foods contain one or more types of carbohydrates. For instance, bananas are primarily made up of complex carbs, but since they are a fruit, they also contain simple sugars.

A typical banana has about 23-26 grams of carbohydrates, including 3.1 grams of fiber and 14.4 grams of simple sugars (simple carbs).

Grouping carbs into basic categories like healthy and unhealthy can be counter-productive – each carb has its benefits and caters to specific bodily functions.

We leave you with an infographic on carb counts for common foods! Hopefully, this will help the next time you need clarification about how to add carbs to your diet.

Want to help someone who is confused about carbs? Share this article with them.

Grouping carbs into basic categories like healthy and unhealthy can be counter-productive – each carb has its benefits and caters to specific bodily functions.

We leave you with an infographic on carb counts for common foods! Hopefully, this will help the next time you need clarification about how to add carbs to your diet.

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