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So often I find myself in conversations with people about nutrition. I have to say I enjoy having the opportunity to hear different peoples take on nutritional balance and what it means to them. Having been a trainer for a very long time and now a Director of Nutrition, I have to say I have gone through many evolutions when it comes to nutrition. There was a time that a balanced meal to me was chicken wings and pizza, followed by a cold soda most nights of the week. Having learned a thing or two since then, it is clear to me that if I want to achieve my fitness goals, I can’t follow a diet like that! Well, what is a balanced diet? What does that mean to you? What does that consist of? What should stay? What should go? Often the first thing people wipe off the menu is the ever daunting carbohydrate. Yes, you (and me) at some point in time have probably thought “I am going to cut carbs out of my diet” How did that work for you? How did you hold up when grandma made that oh so tasty key lime pie? Here is the thing about carbohydrates, they aren’t as bad as everyone thinks and they really are essential to our daily lives. Let’s take a deeper look to get a better understanding.
What is a Carbohydrate?
Before anyone can cut something out of their diet, it is important that they know what it is they are cutting out and what function it plays on their body. Carbohydrates, often referred to as just “carbs,” are your body's primary energy source, and are a crucial part of any well balanced diet. The three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber. They're called “simple” or “complex” based on their chemical makeup and what your body does with them. But since many foods contain one or more types of carbohydrates, it can still be tricky to understand what’s healthy for you and what’s not.
Complex vs. Simple:
Simple carbohydrates are composed of easy-to-digest, basic sugars, which can be an important source of energy. Some of these sugars are naturally occurring, such as those in fruits and in milk, while refined or processed sugars are often added to candies, soda, baked items AKA all the good stuff! Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, contain longer chains of sugar molecules, which usually take more time for the body to break down and use (typically in the presence of fiber). This in turn provides you with a more consistent amount of energy.
So are they good or bad?
Carbohydrates are not the enemy, in fact they are essential to our daily functions. Are their good carbs and bad carbs? Well, that depends on how you define good or bad. My personal opinion is there is no such thing as “bad carbs” rather some that you should avoid consuming large amounts of. If your main source of energy or carbs comes from a snickers bar 3x a day, well my friend you should take a look at that. My suggestion is you replace that simple carb (short term quickly absorbed) carbohydrate with some complex carbohydrates such as a bowl of oatmeal. Sounds boring right? Ok, then spruce up that oatmeal with some chocolate protein powder and peanut butter. Viola, a close second to that snickers bar and a much healthier complex carbohydrate that will give us long term energy. Don’t forget, now you gave your body some energy to function so it is time to get up and go function to burn some of that fuel. Exercise needs to go hand and hand with carbohydrate consumption. If you are filling up on energy and not expending it then you are just going to store it. Get up and get moving and you can start to enjoy those carbohydrates with BALANCE!
As you can see there are a few things to understand before we jump to the conclusion if a carbohydrate is good or bad. My suggestion is you steer away from classifying carbs as good or bad but rather as some that I should eat more or less of. Make sure you ingest your vegetables (fiber) which will help to slow the uptake of the sugars in the carbohydrates. This will help the energy last over a long period of time. This is an important factor to keeping our motor running!