Lately, a lot of attention has been focused on the fact that many of us should eat less carbs.
So when we ask ourselves “how to eat less carbs” the question is too broad. In fact, the category carbohydrates includes a wide spectrum of foods. Some of which are really important for our health. And some of which can compromise it.
We should focus on the category of foods, not nutrients. Even if as scientists and researchers it may be a helpful to study food through nutrients. It’s not a helpful way to communicate about food.
Why Do We Think Carbs Are Bad
Let’s see how focusing on nutrients rather than food can get us confused and potentially eating a diet that’s dangerous to our health.
There are tonnes of popular diet trends that encourage us to drastically reduce the carbohydrates in our diet. Even to the point of limiting our intake of fresh fruit.
At the same time, some of these low-carb diets suggest that we can eat protein and fats freely. But a diet that’s very high in animal protein and contains no whole grain or not enough fruits and vegetables could leave us with serious problems in the long run.
All nutrients are not created equal especially when it comes to their effect on our health. Shifting our focus from nutrients to foods can help us develop better eating habits that will support our long term health.
Good Carbs, Bad Carbs
There are carbs that we should avoid. And carbs that we should definitely include in our diet.
Most people think of bread and pasta when talking of carbohydrates. However, you can find carbs in dairy products, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, sugary foods and sweets. (Source: HealthLine)
Dietary carbohydrates are combinations fiber, starch and sugar units.
We divide carbs in 2 main groups: simple and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are sugar. They can be monosaccharides, or single sugar units like glucose and fructose. As well as the disaccharides, or two-sugar units like sucrose, or table sugar.
This is the group of carbs that we should avoid.
Examples of simple, refined carbohydrates: white bread, regular pasta, any type of processed, packaged food – cookies, cakes, soda and sugary drinks, baked goodies, juice concentrates, cereals, etc.
Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, include the dietary starches that our body can break down and digest, and also the indigestible polysaccharides that make up dietary fiber – poo material.
During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down and converted to glucose. Glucose can then be metabolized by the body to produce usable energy in the form of ATP.
Fiber helps with better digestion and regular pooping.
Whole grains like brown rice and rolled oats are carbohydrates that provide our bodies with a usable source of energy and bound together in that very same food is a significant amount of fiber, which slows the release of glucose from that food into the bloodstream. This is a group of carbs that is good for us.
Examples of complex carbs rich in fiber: fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains.
Examples of complex carbs rich in starch: whole wheat bread, cereal, corn, oats, peas, rice.
The glycemic index of food is the measure of the speed at which glucose is released into the blood stream after it’s digested. A whole grain like brown rice or quinoa will result in a slower release of glucose and a more muted insulin response.
On the other hand, food that’s high in refined carbohydrates, like white bread or soda, will lead to a more rapid release of glucose into the blood. And in response to this, the body releases a large amount of insulin, the hormone in our bodies that lowers blood sugar.
Because of spike of glucose and insulin lead to less stable blood sugar levels, eating foods that are refined, especially highly processed carbohydrates, can result in an earlier return of hunger and a tendency to overeat.
We tend to overeat and be hungry again sooner when we eat simple or refined carbohydrates.
The glycemic index of food is lower when the food contains fiber or when it’s eaten in combination with protein foods or foods containing some dietary fat.
For people who are struggling to manage their weight, or their blood sugar levels, eating foods that have a low glycemic index is especially important, but choosing low glycemic foods is generally a good idea for all us.
How to Limit Carbs in Everyday
We tend to start by thinking about the protein when we’re planning a meal. If we can think of the vegetables as the feature then the entire meal will likely end up being healthier.
The plate itself should consist of about one half plant based food, ideally with a mix of different colored vegetables.
Different colored vegetables contain different micro nutrients. So, eating a variety of them maximizes our nutrient coverage. In general, eating a variety of foods is also beneficial because it minimizes the chances of getting sick from potential contaminants in any one food.
The remaining one half of the plate should be equally divided into whole grains and protein rich foods (in my case that’s plants as well).
Most of the time the best drink to quench thirst and keep us hydrated and healthy is plain, clean water. The human body is made up of more than 50% water so don’t forget to replace it during mealtime.
Drinking water before each meal may even be helpful for weight management.
Eat Complex Carbs, Avoid Simple Carbs
So when we talk about dietary carbohydrates we’re actually talking about a very broad family of foods. Some that can be harmful to our long term health, such as simple carbohydrates that raise insulin levels. And some that can support it, like complex carbohydrates with low and slow insulin spikes.
Learning how to choose the right foods within each nutrient category is one of the keys to long term success.
The variations are endless yet very important for our well being. Don’t diet because it never works on a long run. Get into the habit of creating a healthy plate, sit down for mealtimes, and take time to enjoy meals.
I hope you found the information that is useful to you. If you have any questions, want to share your experience or just chat on this topic, write a comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!
Till next time,