Carbs are carbs, right? So why then are we continuously exposed to the good carbs vs bad carbs debate?
You know that you’re more likely to end up with a big gut if you spend your life binging on garlic bread and chips. Plus, countless people seem to believe that carbs are the devil if you want to lose weight.
However, the truth is that carbs aren’t all bad, or all good.
Just like people, there are good carbs and bad carbs. What’s more, the amount that you need of different types of carbs depends on a lot of things – including your genetics.
So, how do you get your head around the carbohydrate conundrum?
Is there a way to make sure that you’re stocking up on the right food every day, without ditching carbs from your diet completely?
Let’s find out.
What are carbs? An introduction
Let’s start with the basics.
Carbs or carbohydrates are a major food group for human beings.
Dietary guidelines suggest that we get about half of our daily calories from carbs, in the form of things like potatoes, beans, bread, and so on.
Some people claim that simple carbohydrates are responsible for all the weight problems you can think of, from diabetes to obesity. However, that’s not really the case – or at least – it’s not that simple.
The problem with carbs today is that they have some seriously bad publicity.
Thanks to fad diets, carbs have been painted as some sort of moustached villain, sneaking into your evening meals and bloating your stomach when you least expect it.
But carbs aren’t that malicious. They’re molecules, made up of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The types of carbs that you ingest each day can be separated into three main categories:
Fibres: The stuff that you can’t digest, but that your good bacteria thrive on.
Starches: Long-chain glucose molecules that eventually get broken down into energy.
Sugars: Short-chain carbs like sucrose, fructose, and glucose.
So, are carbs healthy, unhealthy, or a bit of both?
Well, while you might not need a dose of carbohydrate supplements every day to keep you feeling great, your body does use these substances to create energy – and energy is good.
However, you can also get your energy elsewhere, so carbs might not be necessary in every diet.
It really all depends on you.
The different types of carbs: From simple to complex
Not all carbs are created equal. Often, they’re broken down into “simple carbohydrates”, or whole carbs”, and “complex carbohydrates” or “refined carbs”.
Whole carbs are the unprocessed and unrefined products that come packed full of natural fibre and other substances. Refined carbs, often known as bad carbs, are the ones that have had all their natural stuff stripped out.
Basically, a whole carb might be a potato, or a piece of whole fruit, while a refined carb refers to something like a fruit juice, or a slice of white bread.
When we think of carbs, we often think about the bad stuff – because, let’s face it, it’s more delicious. Most of us love binging on a good pasta bake or a slice of pizza.
It’s these high carb foods that are also associated with spikes in blood sugar that cause you to crave more food later in the day. More often than not, bad carbs also don’t come with the essential nutrients that we need to satisfy our bodies.
This means that they’re often described as empty calories.
There’s even a particularly dangerous form of refined carb out there called “added sugars”, which can cause a bunch of horrible chronic diseases.
Should we avoid high carb foods?
So, what’s the solution?
Do we ditch carbs entirely and spend our lives carefully avoiding potatoes and bread?
Just because processed bad carbs have their issues, doesn’t mean that you should tar all of these molecules with the same brush.
The debate between good carbs vs bad carbs shows us that just as there are unhealthy products out there, there are also fantastic carbs to consider too, like vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Eating simple carbohydrates that are free of refinements can improve your metabolic health and reduce your risk of disease.
Carbs on their own aren’t the cause of obesity. Like with most things, it depends on the type of carbs that you eat, and how many you include in your diet whether you’re going to see weight problems.
While it’s true that the added sugars of refined carbs are often linked to an increased risk of obesity – the same isn’t true of the rich simple carbohydrates in whole-food options.
As human beings, we’ve been eating carbs as a major part of our diet for thousands of years. Yet, somehow, the obesity epidemic worldwide only started in the 1980s.
Clearly, something doesn’t add up there.
Put simply, if you have a weight problem, it’s very unlikely that carbs are the only source of your issue.
While you might need to cut down on your refined carb intake, the key to losing weight will usually be learning how to control your calorie intake from multiple different food sources.
How to choose between good carbs and bad carbs
Good carbs vs bad carbs…
Having a list of low carb foods and high carb foods that you can check when you’re trying to lose weight is a good idea.
It will help you to build your diet around a focus on whole, healthy foods, rather than refined and processed garbage.
However, don’t let yourself get too carried away.
You don’t necessarily need to give up carbs entirely to live a lean and healthy life. Instead, you should just be focusing on looking for foods that have all of their natural nutrients and fibres.
Vegetables: Just about any you can think of, from broccoli through to avocado
Legumes: Lentils, peas, kidney beans…
Nuts: Again, whatever you can think of, from peanuts to walnuts
Seeds: Chia, pumpkin, sunflower, etc…
Whole grains: Stick to the really pure stuff, like oats, quinoa, and brown rice (not white rice)
Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes
Remember, although those carbs are generally good, they can also be bad if you eat too much of them or use them in the wrong way.
For instance, deep-frying your bananas and covering them in caramel sauce means that they won’t continue to be good for you.
Alternatively, traditionally bad carbs include:
Sugar-laden drinks: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and cocktails
Fruit juices: Particularly the ones made from concentrate
White bread and rice: These are made with refined carbs and are stripped of fibre
Sweet baked goods: Cookies, cakes, pastries, etc
Ice cream: Yep, most of these are high in carbs and sugar
Candies: Chocolate, sweets, anything rich in sugar
How to balance good carbs vs bad carbs?
So, how do you make sure that you’re getting the right diet for your needs?
Well, you could try and give up on refined carbs altogether – but honestly, that’s probably going to be way too tough for most people.
Trying to cut all carbs out of your diet in one go requires a serious amount of willpower, and it could mean that you end up falling off the wagon and binge-eating halfway through your diet.
A better option is to figure out what your trigger foods our and wean off them gradually.
For example, if you know that you absolutely gorge yourself on chips after a night out, maybe you can try cutting chips out of your diet gradually?
If you do want to reduce the amount of bad carbs that you’re eating, it’s much easier to start with a single food and replace that with something healthier.
Maybe, if you love pizza, you could replace the takeaway stuff you get on a Friday night with a healthy version you make yourself using whole-grain wheat?
As with most things in diet, moderation is the key. You may even decide that you don’t want to get rid of a specific food entirely – and that’s fine too.
Just make sure you know how to control yourself when you’re craving carbs.
For more tips on how to trim your stomach and stay fit, check out the other articles we have here at Blitz’d or subscribe for more guidance.
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This article contains general nutritional tips and advice. However, no diet or exercise program should be started without consulting your physician or other industry professional first. For more information read our full disclaimer here.