The better question is, “Are there carbohydrates that offer more nutrition than other carbohydrates?”
That is a HARD yes! Absolutely!
Types of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are made up of
These can be categorized into
1) Simple Carbohydrates:
1a) Simple carbohydrates: Simple carbohydrates can spike blood sugar levels: fruit, honey, maple syrup
1b) Refined carbohydrates: These are simple carbs but stripped of nutrients and fiber. Mostly found in processed foods and “white” foods such as white rice, white bread, white pasta, white sugar and many breakfast cereals. Eating a diet like the Standard American Diet which is high in refined carbs may increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome and have been linked to heart disease, obesity and chronic inflammation.
2) Complex Carbohydrates:
Vegetables with a lot of fiber and nutrients. Complex carbs help keep blood sugar levels stable. The high fiber content in complex carbs makes them slower to digest and therefore less likely to spike blood sugar levels. Eating a diet high in complex carbs can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and heart disease. Food examples are cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, celery, cucumber, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower etc.).
You may also hear the term “starchy carbs”. Foods that fall under this category are legumes, lentils and other vegetables. Although there is fiber in starchy carbs, they can still increase blood sugar levels. Specific examples are oatmeal, rice, grains, chickpeas and potatoes.
For a breakdown of Carbohydrates, download a list here
Why the controversy?
Some of the controversies lie in whether or not carbohydrates like grains and legumes are actually good for you.
Diets such as the Paleo diet restrict the amount of grains and legumes you can eat based on evidence that grains may cause health issues relating to digestion, mental health or cognitive health and immune function.
There is also evidence that the “antinutrients” from grains and legumes may hinder nutrient absorption. (Antinutrients are compounds that protect the plant from infection and insects.)
Note: anti-nutrients can be reduced through a process of sprouting or soaking before cooking.
However, there is also evidence that shows ancient grains like quinoa and buckwheat have health-promoting benefits on digestion due to the high fiber content, better blood sugar balance and protection against heart disease.
Should you eat Carbohydrates?
This is NOT a straightforward question to answer.
We all have individual health needs.
Most people who follow a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle tend to rely on carbohydrates such as beans and lentils for their protein and important nutrient content whereas studies have shown that a person with an autoimmune disease can benefit from going grain and lentil free.
You also want to take into consideration what kind of carbohydrates you’re eating. If you eat a diet high in refined carbs, you may be increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
If you’re eating a diet high in complex carbs such as cruciferous vegetables, nuts and seeds you’ll l be reducing your risk of heart disease, providing nutrients to help increase energy and may even boost your mood and cognitive health.
The best way to determine the amount of carbohydrates you should be consuming is by listening to your body.
Ask yourself how you feel after consuming a meal high in refined carbohydrates such as a pasta dinner with tomato sauce. Do you feel physically tired, irritable, or mentally tired after eating? If so, you may want to moderate the amount of pasta and other “white” refined carbohydrates in your current diet.
Alternatively, how do you feel after eating a salad with leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds? Do you feel sluggish, mentally drained or irritable? Probably not.
It’s a dangerous game to clump ALL carbohydrates into one bucket under “bad for you”. We need carbohydrates in our diet for proper bodily function.
Did you know that an increase in complex carbohydrates at different stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle will help in the production of estrogen and progesterone? Not to mention, carbohydrates will help boost exercise performance, build more muscle and reduce the inflammatory impact of intense exercise.
Yes, some types of carbs are more nutritious than others. Get familiar with complex carbs and incorporate more of them into your diet, while reducing refined carbohydrates.
Remember that carbohydrates are full of health-promoting vitamins and minerals, antioxidants (that help reduce the signs of aging), and more! We rely on these nutrients for important functions within the body.
Remember, also, that eating pasta or birthday cake every once in a while is OK too.
Finding the balance between enjoying all food and enjoying life is what’s important when finding what lifestyle works for you.
If you’re confused about what to eat for optimal health, speak to our resident nutritionist. You can book a free consultation here.