What’s The Deal With Carbs?

Are you confused by all the talk about good carbs and bad carbs? Do you wonder what a carb is and what kinds you should eat? Don’t worry – carbs are actually much easier to understand than you might think. Basically, the food we eat is made up of three components – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Most of us readily understand proteins and fats – it’s the carbohydrate portion of our diets that can be confusing.

Carbohydrates occur in two forms – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are so called because their components are easy for our bodies to break down and use as energy. Unfortunately, they are also easy for our bodies to break down and store as fat. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer for our bodies to break down and use as energy. They are more likely to burned up and less likely to be stored as fat. Nutritionally speaking, they usually contain more vitamins and minerals, as well as more fiber.

Simple carbohydrates contain primarily sugars and starch. Some examples of simple carbohydrates include sugar, candy, corn syrup, honey, white rice, and anything made with white flour, including cakes, pasta, bread, pastries, and some cereals.

Complex carbohydrates contain lower levels of sugars, starches, and fiber. Some examples of complex carbohydrates include vegetables such as spinach, carrots, cauliflower and eggplant; fruits such as strawberries, oranges, apricots and prunes; beans including soybeans, garbanzo beans and lentils; and whole grains including wild rice and products made from whole grains such as whole wheat breads.

Processing a complex carbohydrate can result in a simple carbohydrate – for example, whole wheat that’s processed into “enriched” wheat flour and made into bread is no longer a complex carbohydrate. Whole grain brown rice that’s processed into white rice has also been made into a simple carbohydrate. In much the same way, drinking orange juice is not as good for you as eating an orange, as the juice no longer retains the pulp and fiber sources that make the orange so healthy.

Knowing the difference between the two types of carbohydrates, you can probably guess the recommendation for which types of carbohydrates you should be eating – complex carbohydrates. Not only are these foods better for you, but because they contain fiber, they’ll help you feel satisfied longer. These foods also tend to have more volume. One cup of halved strawberries, for example, has 11 grams of carbohydrate, three of which are fiber. Subtracting the fiber from the total carbohydrate number leaves you with the amount of effective carbs, which in this case is eight. A cup of cooked white rice, on the other hand, has 45 grams of carbohydrate, of which less than one gram is fiber. This means you could eat about five and a half cups of strawberries and get the same carbohydrate impact as one cup of white rice.

But is there ever a place for simple carbohydrates in your diet? Anything can be enjoyed in moderation – the problem is that so many of the foods we consume are laden with unnecessary sugars that it’s hard to consume simple carbohydrates in moderation without consciously watching your carbohydrate intake and avoiding most processed foods.

You may be wondering how many carbohydrates you should eat each day. That number will be determined by whether or not you’re trying to lose weight. Rather than trying to reduce your carbohydrate intake, a first step toward health would be to reduce or eliminate the amount of simple carbohydrates you consume. Once you’re eating only complex carbohydrates, you can total the amount and reduce them slightly if you want to lose weight. An average of 50 to 70 effective grams of carbohydrate each day will allow most people to lose weight.