It’s time to reimagine how we think about carbohydrates. Far too often, we treat them as the enemy. It makes sense, considering there are tons of meal plans and diet trends that demonize carbs as being the reason why you can’t lose weight or burn fat. The truth is, carbs are essential for our health.
“Even if you go on a high protein, high fat diet, you can try as much as you want, but you can’t isolate yourself completely from carbohydrates,” says Sachin Kukreja, MD, bariatric surgeon on the medical staff at Methodist Dallas Medical Center. “The key is to understand which carbs will fuel your body and which carbs will weigh you down.”
The carb breakdown
Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in almost everything we eat. When we eat carbs, our bodies breaks them down into simple sugars, absorbs them into the bloodstream, and releases insulin to transform the sugars into energy. Don’t we all need energy to survive those 8 a.m. meetings that could have been emails? Yep, energy is important!
Simple vs. complex
Carbs don’t all fall under one umbrella. In fact, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
“Simple carbs can be found in several foods and drinks, such as pastries, candy, dairy, juice, soda, and cereal,” Dr. Kukreja says. Pretty much anything processed is loaded with simple sugars. “Our bodies use simple carbs at the cellular level, but if the simple carbs are not used immediately, the body converts them into fat.”
The breakdown process goes much faster for simple carbs, which causes us to feel hungry again shortly after eating. This isn’t the case for complex carbs, which are found in whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, potatoes, peas, nuts, beans, and lentils. The breakdown for these foods is much slower, which helps you stay satisfied longer.
“Both types of carbs often get lumped together, but people need to differentiate between them,” Dr. Kukreja says. “Think of it as winning the lottery. Do you want all your money at once, to quickly spend it, and then become broke? Or do you want installments over the next 10 years?”
He says most people who consume more complex carbs actually feel more energized and experience less weight gain or even some weight loss.
Swap this for that
Now that you know which carbs offer the most benefit, try swapping simple carbs for more complex ones.
“I think sustainable changes all depend on the nature of your household, whether you cook in your home, or any cultural influences,” Dr. Kukreja says. “By tweaking your eating habits, you are more likely to follow through and maintain a healthier lifestyle and keep you satisfied without the sugar crash.”