What exactly is a “carb” anyway?
By: Donald Recupido, M.Ed.
The controversy continues: Should we eat a Low Fat Diet, Fat Free, Atkins, Mediterranean, Paleo, Macrobiotic. Low carb. Wow!! It is enough to make your head spin. I mean who really knows what they are talking about? Unfortunately people often make the statement that “carbs” are not good for you. In my personal training text book it is recommended that 60% of our calories should come from carbohydrates. What does this mean? Well it may mean different things to different people. Before we make any decisions regarding what we need to eat to have a better life style it is important to have some basic understanding regarding carbohydrates, fats, and protein. This article will focus on carbohydrates.
Let’s begin with some basic information for those of you who are unfamiliar with concept of carbohydrates. Basically there are two categories of carbohydrates. There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates burn faster in your body and typically have less nutritional value. Complex carbohydrates burns slower and generally have more fiber. These foods are more likely to be nutritionally dense. Within the category of complex carbohydrates are included various types of grains such as brown rice, millet, bulgur wheat, and a variety of other whole grains. In addition vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, carrots etc, are also considered complex carbohydrates.
Is one type of complex carbohydrate better for you than another? Well this seems to be a controversial question. In addition to the USDA there are several medical organizations and schools such as Harvard University that make recommendations regarding the food we should eat. Harvard School of Public Health has posted a food pyramid as well as the Mayo Clinic and other research institutions.. In addition to these schools a variety of and well known and published clinicians such as T Collin Campbell, Dr. Dr. Andrew Wiel, Dr. Joel Fehrman, Dr Dean Ornish, all make recommendations regarding the food we should consume to have a healthier life style. Some of these medical professionals recommend eating more grain based foods than others and there are often considerable differences regarding their recommendations.
Most researchers would agree however that eating plant based complex carbohydrates such as spinach, kale; asparagus, broccoli etc. are of great value nutritionally and help protect our health. There seems to be less agreement regarding grains which may tend to contain more glucose, rate higher on the glycemic index, and cause spikes in our sugar cycle. These foods may be seen as particularly problematic with individuals who have diabetes, celiac disease, or those who tend to be less active and will not burn as many calories engaging in physical activity. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy.
In addition most medical professionals would agree that simple carbohydrates foods and beverages tend to be problematic. Sweetened soft drinks, candy, cake, white rice, white bread, pizza etc. fall into this category. Simple carbohydrates burn faster, they create radical spikes in our sugar cycle. They have little nutritional value, tend to be more addicting and may waste our bodies’ nutritional reserve when they are consumed.
Don Recupido is a licensed professional counselor whose practice focus on helping individuals improves the quality of their lives. He frequently works with individuals to address weight loss and to develop a more healthy live style.