Clearing up Misconceptions about Carbs

For anyone tuning into my blog for the first time, let me catch you up - Carbs are not the enemy!

There are soooo many misconceptions about carbs out there, they get such a bad reputation. So let's back it up for a second and figure out why. Let's start around circa 1977 when guidelines set by the FDA encouraged Americans to eat less meat, and therefor a "low fat" phenomenon was created; because fat makes you fat, right? Well time went by and studies showed that Americans were eating less fat, but we weren't getting any thinner. As Americans we had to find something to blame our newfound fatness on. We couldn't blame it on the fact that people were driving everywhere instead of walking; we couldn't blame it on the fact that fast food and processed foods were becoming more popular; and we couldn't blame it on the fact that we had a huge surplus of food (think about it, food is everywhere you turn! Why does Office Supply need candy bars and chips at the register? THEY DON'T) - all of those things would be taking wayyy too much responsibility. That's when our focused shifted to blaming carbs. 

Those poor carbs. I feel sad for how much I used to despise them. It's so hard for me to keep my mouth shut and be polite when people start telling me about their low-carb diets. Sidenote: There are some instances when low carb diets are appropriate, usually for those severely overweight or diabetic. One time I was eating lunch and someone walked in my office and said "Oh my gosh, look at all those carbs. I'm not eating carbs right now. I'm trying to lose weight". Without even looking up from my plate or hesitating for a second I replied "Really, I've lost liked 10 pounds making an effort to eat over 150 grams of carbs per day". Cue the awkward silence. Again, it's nobody's fault: we believe the things mainstream media tells us. We don't spend any time researching nutrition or trying to understand how everything works. We just look for quick answers. Well - you gon' learn today!

Quick disclaimer : First of all - I have to say I'm encouraged. I think more people are realizing carbs aren't the bad guys and people understand that there are different kinds of carbs (at least I hope). But if not, welcome to Carb 101. 

Alright let's just start with the basics here. First of all, I've seen people attempt to go on low carb diets. And then all of a sudden, they realize they can't eat healthy things - like fruits and vegetables!!! Because those are carbs. I've said it once and I will say it again: a little critical thinking goes a long way in regards to your health. Does it make sense that we want to give up fruits and vegetables to try some low carb diet? NO!! Now, then there are people who are at the opposite end of the spectrum: these people have an understanding that fruits and vegetables are carbs, but they have designated these as the "good carbs" and insist that fruits and vegetables should be their primary carbohydrate source. These people think that whole grains, sweet potatoes and other COMPLEX carbs are the "bad carbs" that will lead to weight gain. Well let me just stop right there and say something I've said before: we need ALL nutrients, the key is just getting them in the right amounts. Any excess nutrient can make you fat - this is not just specific to carbs.

Moving on.. hopefully now we've all realized that I'm saying yes, we absolutely need to eat carbs. They are our principle energy source. A diet lacking carbs will force your body to start stripping from your amino acids and muscle tissue to provide your body energy. This results in muscle loss and inhibits fat loss; which again, is the opposite of what we want. Yes, you may lose weight, but you are losing muscle (not fat) which will ultimately lead to an undesirable body fat ratio, lack of energy, and water retention.

Okay, okay, Rylee. We need carbs. So now what. Well first let's understand the two different types of carbohydrates:
1) simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides aka simple sugar) - fruits and veggies
2) complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) - oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, regular potatoes, etc. 

Simple sugar is already broken down so your blood sugar will spike rapidly when ingested, causing a big insulin reaction. The insulin has to gather up all the sugar to lower the blood sugar levels and bring it into your cells where we can use it as fuel for energy. However, once we have enough fuel in our cells, our body can no longer process it so it begins storing the rest as fat. On the flip side, complex carbohydrates are not already broken down, so your body has to recruit energy to break the sugars down. Complex carbohydrates keep your blood sugar more steady. A steady blood sugar will continue utilizing stored fuel as energy instead of storing it as fat. The insulin is released in smaller amounts, and it takes only a little bit of sugar back to the cells for energy, leaving less room to store excess as fat. 

Now - I'm not some crazy person telling you not to eat fruit. There is actually a trainer on Instagram (who will remain unnamed) who frequently states "Fruit is nature's sweet little way of keeping you fat and unhealthy". LOL, no. BUT - with that being said, fruit should NOT be your primary source of carbohydrates. We MUST learn to let ourselves eat complex carbohydrates - they provide fuel for our day and workouts, they help us recover after our workouts by replenishing our depleted glycogen levels, they help regulate our insulin levels and - silver lining - they are delicious!