Fact or Fiction: The Truth About Carbohydrates
These days, if you head out to dinner with a group of your friends, it’s highly likely at least someone in the bunch will be shunning carbohydrates from their diet. But are carbs the evil cause of weight gain and discomfort they're made out to be? Read on for the truth behind carbohydrates.
Rumour: You don’t need carbs in your diet.
Truth: Our bodies need carbs to function optimally and should compose a significant part of your diet--and this is even more so if you’re physically active since carbohydrates break down into glucose (which your body uses as energy). In fact, as much as 65 per cent of your calories should be carbs if you lead an active lifestyle.
Rumour: Some carbs are better for you than others.
Truth: There are different types of carbs and some work better at keeping your body sustained with energy. Those would be complex carbohydrates, the type you’ll find in whole grains, vegetables and legumes. Simple carbs (think refined grains, such as white bread, sugar, and the natural sugars in fruit and the lactose in dairy products) are processed by your body more quickly. So you’ll get a quick lift from consuming these simple carbs, but it won’t last.
Rumour: Eliminating carbs can help you lose weight.
Truth: This can be true; if you were to lower the amount of simple carbs from your diet, you would not get the blood-sugar rush linked to them, which often leads to you craving more (and consuming more can lead to weight gain). When you do consume a high level of these simple carbohydrates, it can lead to gaining fat.
However, if you go to the extreme and cut out all carbohydrates from your diet, you are not providing your body with the fuel it needs to function well, especially for exercise. If you work out when you’re eating a low-carb diet, your efforts will be diminished as you will not have the energy to give it your all.
Rumour: It doesn’t matter when you eat your carbs.
Truth: You can plan ahead and decide when you’re going to eat different types of carbs so that you’re optimizing how your body is using them. Given carbohydrates provide your body with energy, it makes sense to plan most of your carb intake before, during and after your vigorous workout of choice. And for simple carbs that have a higher GI, these should be what you consume during and after workouts since they are beneficial for your muscles, whereas you can eat the lower GI ones at other points of the day.
Rumour: It’s fine to cut out starchy carbs since those are the type that cause weight gain.
Truth: Eliminate starchy foods from your diet and you could be slashing out a lot of beneficial nutrients and minerals. If you want to stay regular and maintain a healthy digestive system, you need fibre, which is readily found in complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. (Plus, fibre can help you feel full, which means you’re less likely to overeat.)
Karen Kwan is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She covers health, beauty and travel for Canada’s top women’s magazines and websites. On her blog www.healthandswellness.com she writes about fitness, travel, food and beauty, and in her spare time this avid runner trains for marathons.