There's no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to creating a healthy diet for yourself. Whether you're trying to lose weight, get strong, or eat healthier all around, the more you learn, the better. There's one part of our daily diet that gets a lot of attention and for good reason: carbs.
We know carbs are tasty. We know they cure just about any emotional ailment. But what's the deal? Are they good for you? And can you eat them when you're trying to lose weight? We gathered all the necessary information into one place, because we knew you were wondering.
What Are Carbs?
Sounds like a basic question, but let's go over the answer as a refresher. Carbohydrates, affectionately known as carbs, are a necessary food group your body needs to function properly. They're one of the three macronutrients we should eat every single day — the other two being protein and fat. Carbs are molecules made up of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. They're the sugars, starches, and fibers naturally found in foods like fruits, grains, and vegetables.
Carbs may be vilified in certain diets (hello, keto and Atkins), but completely cutting them out of our diet isn't a good idea because they're the main source of energy in your body. Carbs help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart, and muscles, they help your digestion, and they regulate your blood cholesterol levels. Your body stores carbs for later use when you need an extra boost or power, and without enough carbs, you may feel weak, fatigued, nauseous, and suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
How Many Carbs Should I Be Eating Every Day?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 45-65 percent of adults' daily calorie intake should be carbs. The recommended amount of carbs for women between the ages 19 and 30 is 130 grams per day, given you're eating 2,000 calories a day. If you and your doctor have decided that a low-carb diet is right for you, you will likely eat less than this on a daily basis, but the exact number of grams in this case would depend on you and your specific goals.
Most importantly, the quality of your carbs matters more than the actual quantity. Keep reading for more details on this.
What's the Difference Between Complex Carbs and Simple Carbs?
You've probably heard the terms complex carbs and simple carbs floating around, and that's because there's a big difference between the two. Whenever you can, you should opt in for complex carbs, which are unrefined. They're larger molecules called polysaccharides, and unlike simple carbs, they contain fiber and additional vitamins and minerals. An easy way to remember it is, if the carb is a whole food that hasn't been processed, it's probably a complex carb. Good examples of complex carbs include brown rice, sweet potatoes, green vegetables, lentils, etc.
Simple carbs are either foods that have been refined, like cake, white rice, and donuts, or they're sugars, like honey, maple syrup, and white sugar. These foods spike up your blood sugar and they're quickly digested into the bloodstream, which is why you might feel pretty hungry shortly after you finish a big plate of fries. That's why you experience the classic sugar crash after eating a big plate of pancakes. You should keep your intake of simple carbs to a minimum, especially if you're trying to lose weight.
If you have any specific questions about changing your daily carb intake, be sure to speak with a professional to decide which adjustments are right for you.