Over the past few years, carbohydrates have gotten a really bad reputation, which is why so many new and popular diets have focused on eliminating them completely.
"I have found this all-or-nothing restriction has caused so many people to eventually binge on these foods, often leading to weight gain and a bad relationship with food," said Lauren Smith, MS, RD, LDN, registered dietitian at Dietitians of Palm Valley. Despite these messages, it is important to remember that not all carbohydrates are "bad" and to identify what types of carbohydrates are the best to fuel your body.
Carbs are not a villain. "In order to boost your metabolism and lose weight, you must incorporate GOOD carbs into your daily diet. What's great about super carbs is that they provide vital nutrients and essential fibers," said David Zinczenko, nutrition expert, creator of Eat This, Not That!. "And they help you to stay full and to not have a roller coaster of a blood sugar level."
Good carbs are complex carbs that provide energy and nutritional value. "Try whole grains like quinoa, barley, farro, brown rice, and vegetables like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, or artichokes," said Maranda Elkin, a health coach with Well By Me, LLC. "For more traditional good carbs, I recommend whole-grain bread, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain or lentil pastas," said Elkin. These foods will keep you energized for a long period of time and are a healthy staple to any meal.
Bad carbs are refined carbs, often filled with added sugar and devoid of nutritional value. "Examples of these would include foods containing refined grains (like white rice) and foods containing white flour (like bread, pasta, and pastries, or scones, muffins, and croissants)," said Elkin. "This may go without saying, but I wouldn't consider french fries to be a good carb," said Elkin. Bad carbs will provide temporary relief of hunger, but since the nutritional value is so low, the feeling of fullness is short-lived. This is why you may eat twice as many calories when you consume bad carbs.
When deciding what types of carbohydrates you should eat, there are a few important things to remember. "Carbohydrates provide our brains and muscles energy in the form of glucose, so it is important to eat carbohydrates consistently throughout the day . . . especially if you are active!" said Smith. "Secondly, I always encourage my clients to make at least half of their grains 100 percent whole grains each day to reduce their risk for chronic diseases and boost up their fiber intake," said Smith.
And remember, carbs do have their value, and that value should not be underestimated. Have you noticed that when you feel sick or have the flu that even though you might be a steak-lover that the last thing you want to eat is steak . . . or any animal protein for that matter? "When we don't feel well, we usually just long for comfort foods — the toast, potatoes, and pasta we were given as kids — that don't make our bodies work hard," said Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You From Label to Table.
"Whole grains are reliable suppliers of energy; they take longer to break down than refined carbs, and they help make you feel more full and satisfied. Whole-grain carbs, when taken in the right portions, are not usually the issue when it comes to weight gain. Whole grains will move you with more fiber, help your heart with soluble, cholesterol-lowering fibers like oats and barley, and could even help control diabetes by curtailing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels," said Taub-Dix.
Lastly, remember that no diet is perfect. While a well-balanced diet should predominantly include complex carbohydrates, eating simple carbohydrates will not necessarily make you gain weight or cause chronic diseases like diabetes. "Aim for moderation and and an overall, well-balanced diet that includes foods you enjoy and fuel that is good for you!" said Smith.