Employee Wellness: A Dreaded Food Group: Carbohydrates
Have you ever heard someone say: “Don’t eat bread, it’s bad for you”, “I am avoiding carbs because I want to lose weight”, or “Carbs are sugar so don’t eat them”? Well, let me tell you, these are all misconceptions! Carbohydrates have received such a bad reputation that limiting them or completely avoiding them has become part of popular fad diets.
The Science Behind It
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients along with protein and fat. Carbohydrates are turned into (yes, they were half right) sugar (i.e. glucose or blood sugar). However, our body loves carbohydrates because they are the source of most of our energy; therefore, it is essential that we consume them. Without carbohydrates, our body tries to find other ways to get energy to keep our organs working, using the protein and fat that we consume. Eventually, it will start recruiting energy from muscle, called muscle wasting.
What is Considered a Carbohydrate?
When people think about carbohydrates, they may only consider pasta, rice, and bread. However, there are so many more sources.Carbohydrates include:
Grains (bread, noodles, pasta, cereals, rice)
Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas)
Legumes (dried beans, lentils, peas)
Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
Cookies, candy, cakes
What Are the Types of Carbohydrates?
There are two types of carbohydrates:
1. Simple carbohydrates.
These can mostly be found in processed foods, candy, desserts, and white sugar which should all be limited because they don’t provide any additional nutrients. Simple carbohydrates are also found in fruits and milk. These are great to consume because they contain many nutrients.
2. Complex carbohydrates.
These can be found in grain products, starchy vegetables, and legumes. These types of carbohydrates, along with providing multiple vitamins and minerals, also provide fiber. Fiber has been shown to help manage and prevent constipation. Fiber may also lower a person’s risk for diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, our carbohydrate intake should consist mainly of complex carbohydrates.
How to Incorporate Carbohydrates
1. Start with breakfast
Adding carbohydrates into your breakfast will give you that boost of energy that your body loves. Some examples of carbohydrates you can add are old fashioned oats or whole wheat toast.
2. Choose whole grain products
When you go grocery shopping, compare the products. Read the ingredient list and front label to check for whole grains, whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, etc. You can also check the nutrition facts label and choose the products that offer the most fiber. Also, looking for “whole” instead of “refined” will get you more nutrients.
3. Add variety to meals and snacks
Adding variety of carbohydrates to your meals and snacks ensures that you are getting a variety of nutrients. For example, add legumes like beans or chickpeas to your meals or cook sweet potato in the microwave and have it as a snack.
4. Choose whole vs. processed
Whole fruits and vegetables provide greater benefits than buying highly processed foods. For example, instead of drinking a cup of orange juice, choose to eat the whole orange. In addition to giving your body the sugar needed for energy, it is also providing fiber. Sometimes it is difficult to buy whole fruits that are not in season, so you can opt to buy frozen fruit which also contains high quality nutrients.
So, Should I Avoid Carbohydrates?
It is unrealistic and very restrictive to avoid carbohydrates, even simple carbohydrates. Remember that fruits are simple carbohydrates, so these, you can consume more of. However, all the sweets, desserts, juices, soda, white sugar, and refined grains are important to consume in moderation. A common characteristic of processed foods is that there are high amounts of added sugars. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “Adult men take in an average of 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day…” and a study done in 2014 found an association between eating high amounts of sugar and an increased risk of dying from heart disease.
The Bottom Line
As we saw, depending on the type of carbohydrates, they can be either beneficial or cause harm to our body. It is okay if we choose to consume desserts or sodas in moderation, however, our meals and snacks should consist of mainly complex carbohydrates and fruits. Let’s spread the word: carbohydrates are not our enemies.
Written by Jazmin Cruz-Zuniga, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern.
2. Mayo Clinic