The Importance of Carbohydrates in Your Diet
Manduu For Life Session #4
Watch the live session on the importance of carbohydrates in your diet HERE!
I know carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap but give here is an in-depth analysis of why you need them in your diet and how to choose the right ones! You can watch this Manduu for Life session #4 by clicking the link above! I’m going to give it to you straight – carbs CAN, in fact, be referred to as sugar. But that’s not where it ends. Fiber, sugar, fruit, veggies, legumes are all carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a macronutrient (along with it’s cohorts – protein and fat) and they are REQUIRED by your body to function properly. Imperative. Necessary. IMPORTANT. CARBS ARE CRUCIAL. Carbohydrates break down into a molecule called glucose which serves as the body’s main source of energy. This energy source is essential not only for physical activity, but for all bodily functions as well – brain/central nervous system (glucose) and GI (fiber) most easily identifiable. Carbs also help control blood glucose & insulin metabolism, play a part in cholesterol & triglyceride metabolism. A substantial amount of complex carbohydrates also aid in the prevention of disease & helps to maintain a healthy weight. So here we go on the topic on the importance of carbohydrates in your diet!
Types of Carbohydrates:
Simple Carbohydrates: Immediate energy; spike in blood sugar & insulin release from the pancreas
-candy, soda, corn syrup, fruit juice, honey, table sugar
-fructose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, galactose, ribose, maltose, glucose
Complex Carbohydrates: More complex structure which takes longer for the body to break down and therefore a more gradual effect on blood sugar and insulin response
-apples, broccoli, lentils, spinach, unrefined whole grains, brown rice
-cellobiose, rutinolose, amylose, cellulose, dextrin
Starches: large structure with many glucose molecules; produced by plants
-potatoes, chickpeas, pasta, wheat
Fiber: non-digestible; encourages growth of healthy bacteria in the colon
-cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin
-Insoluble: absorbs water in intestines which softens and bulks stool resulting in increased regularity and decreased risk of diverticulitis, cancers (bran, seeds, potato skin, brown rice, vegetables)
-Soluble: helps to decrease blood cholesterol & LDL levels, reduce straining, blunts postprandial blood glucose levels (fleshy fruits, oats, broccoli, dried beans)
How much do I need?
The lowest amount of carb recommended per day is 130g. HOWEVER – that is the bare minimum and should truly be met only if you are a female, approximately 5’0” tall, 100lbs and 100% sedentary, and I’m willing to bet that at the very least, if you’re reading this, you are NOT 100% sedentary. Ignore this number – I promise you’ll regret your whole life if you try to limit your carb intake to 130gm 😊 “Well, why even mention that number then?” “For comparison’s sake, of course!” A more realistic and largely more beneficial recommendation ranges from 45%-65% of your total calories. So for example, if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, you should be ingesting between 225g and 325g of carbs daily (which amounts to roughly 900-1300 calories). 225 is 95 more than 130. That is a SIGNIFICANT amount of energy that you would be missing out on, and thus a huge decline in physical performance and basic function of your body. I’m sorry, but carbs and life are too good to limit to that extent.
Things to consider when making your carbohydrate choices:
-Opt for more fruits & veggies! (I know, a common theme here) Not only are we all very aware of the importance of getting ample fruits and vegetables in our diets as well as the health and nutrition they provide, they help you to meet your gut- and heart-healthy fiber needs.
-Grab whole grains – more fiber, and more micronutrients. Refined grains, like many of those white carbs, are stripped of nutrients (removing the natural color and turning them, yup, white).
-Bountiful beans! (and peas, and lentils) – again, more fiber. This food group provides tons of nutrients like folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium, with a very low-fat content.
-Limit processed foods and desserts! Not only have nutrients been removed, but sugar has been added. Sure, sweet potatoes are a great source of carbs and nutrients, but you know sweet potato fries or chips are not the same things 😉 Same goes for a homemade bran muffin, low in added/processed sugar versus a muffin from the coffee shop, as well as a homemade banana bread or even a homemade (banana) “nice cream” with zero refined sugar compared to a gourmet muffin from a bakery or your favorite Jeni’s ice cream – I know, it hurts. I love them dearly too but I’m not talking about cutting them out completely, just practicing some discipline and portion control.
As we determine that it is OK to eat carbs, you should rejoice! Exercising mindfulness and remaining conscientious of your choices are important concepts to keep. If we refer back to the “low to non-nutritious” carbohydrates mentioned earlier, I bet that all those items look very familiar to you and, if you’re honest with yourself, you probably already know what you want to try to steer clear of them on the regular. That said, it’s important to check out nutrition labels when choosing not just your carbohydrates, but any food (don’t worry, we’ll dive into reading nutrition labels during one of our upcoming Manduu For Life sessions 😉). You want to stay ahead of the game! Just because a food is touted as being “low-carb” doesn’t always mean that it’s the best option.
A great way to choose carbs is to look at them from the perspective of volume. For example, 1 small handful of raisins and 1-2 cups of fresh grapes (depending on size) have a similar amount of carbohydrates, same goes for something like 8oz of orange juice and 1-2 fresh oranges. ¾c – 1 cup of dry processed cereals has a similar carb count to 3/4c rolled oats (oats expand!) plus some fresh fruit. One bagel can have approximately the same amount of carbs as a bowl of fresh veggies, PLUS some popcorn! When you compare options in this manner, it should be much easier to see how satiating one is versus the other.
Examples of NUTRITIOUS carbohydrate options:
These are typically your low GI foods, or those that take longer to digest, preventing a quick spike in blood sugar.
-fruits: bananas, mango, apples, pineapple, cantaloupe, cherries, figs
-vegetables: potatoes/yams, squash/zucchini, beets, parsnips, corn, carrots
-grains: quinoa, oats, buckwheat, rye, barley
-beans/legumes: lentils, peas, black/pinto/kidney/garbanzo beans,
Examples of LOW to Non-NUTRITIOUS carbohydrate options:
Processed foods are typically low in nutrients & high in carbohydrates due to refined sugar. These are high-GI foods, which cause a rapid spike in blood sugar.
-desserts (cakes, cookies, pastries, candy, coffee creamers)
-dried fruits (raisins, dates)
-brain fog/loss of focus
-consistent carb overload: weight gain, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, type2 diabetes
-loss of muscle mass, inability to build muscle despite rigorous training
Is there an ideal time to eat carbs?
There isn’t really. There is so much conflicting data around nutrient timing as it pertains to exercise that I would urge you to do some experimentation. If I plan on going for a long run or if I’ve got a long, heavy lift on the horizon, I’ll have some carb (and protein) before my workout. Yes, some carb before a Manduu workout would be largely beneficial to your workout and your body. In just about any scenario, carbohydrates are a great addition to your post-workout snack or meal. This way, you’re replenishing energy as well as assisting your body greatly in building muscle (protein repairs muscle tissue, carbohydrate helps to build muscle). Ingesting carbs immediately following a workout will enhance glycogen resynthesis thus speeding up recovery time and eventually leading to the ability to increase your training volume. As far as the myth around not eating carbs too late in the day, it’s about the kind of carbohydrate you choose, the way your body responds, and the amount of activity you’ve participated in during the day plus what you’ve got planned for early the next morning, if anything. That said, I would always opt for a lean protein, lower carb option if it was getting real late, but that’s because of how my body reacts. For example, I would choose a few slices of turkey and some fresh strawberries, maybe with some almond butter or some hummus, over whole grain toast with banana and peanut butter, or oatmeal, or a large fruit smoothie. All GREAT options! But it all depends on YOU. Bear in mind, consistently eating a high volume of carbohydrates and not utilizing them properly can lead to weight gain (just like eating an excessive amount of just about anything!)
Keep up the hard work Team Manduu!
Nicole M. Astone, M.S. EXNS
Missed our first Nutrition session? You can read all about Macros vs. Micros HERE!
Watch all past Manduu For Life Sessions HERE!