Carbs 101: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Hey everybody! I hope you’re all having a great week so far! I’m super excited to be back with you today talking about my favorite thing in the whole wide world: FOOD. But more specifically, carbs.

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So, the reason for this whole article is to clear up a lot of confusion about what exactly carbs are, which ones are good, which ones are bad, and how they should be implemented into your diet. So, carbs: are they good, bad, or ugly? (Spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you right now that they most certainly are not ugly.)

“Okay Olivia, I know what carbs are, so what’s the point of this? Bread is bread, ABC, we all get it; it’s common knowledge.” But it’s not always so simple. I’ve had clients be confused when I talked to them about carbs, because they truly believed carbs were only breads. And, of course, while my initial reaction was to be a bit surprised, I simply explained what carbs were. How they work to benefit or harm us, and how we might best utilize them in our daily diets.

But those conversations got me to thinking. Today we have so much information that everything can get really confusing. And we are constantly fed so much misinformation that it is no wonder we’re all baffled! That is why it is so very important that we take the time to research and learn about any and every thing we possibly can, especially those things relating to our heath.

 

What is a carb? And what do they do for our bodies?

 

Ahem *adjusts glasses to appear smarter.* Carbs (saccharides) are made from chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are three classifications of carbs: monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides are simple sugars; an example of monosaccharides is glucose. Disaccharides are a group of sugars and are formed after two monosaccharides link together. An example of disaccharides is lactose. The two are similar in the way that they can both be dissolved in water. Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates and are basically long chains of monosaccharides linked together. An example of polysaccharides is starch.

More simply put? Carbs are our main source of energy and are vital for our well-being, but we have to be aware of exactly what kind of carbs we are eating.

I’m not going to give you the full shebang; nobody wants that. I didn’t want that when I got to this section of the book learnin’ myself. So, from here on out I’ll give you the “carbs for dummies” that everybody actually wants.

We need carbs. We have to have them. That’s just it. Without them you won’t function properly and it could lead to some trouble (for example: if you decide you don’t need carbs anymore and are no longer getting the right amount of fiber you need you could get diverticulitis. Not pretty!)

Carbohydrates are what we use for energy to help fuel our bodies from everyday tasks to grueling workouts. We need carbohydrates to fuel our strenuous activity and subsequent recovery. They are necessary for us to function properly. They’re part of the “big three” (carbs, protein, fats) for a reason.

Our bodies take the ‘good carbs’ we eat and converts them into glucose (commonly known as blood sugar). Fiber rich carbohydrates also keep our intestines running smoothly and help the trains to arrive on time at the station. Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, giving our bodies good energy, keep our blood sugar levels stable, and help us feel full longer.

Carbs also help with muscle gain and recovery after the gym. They give you the energy you need to build muscle, instead of pulling it from your liver or muscle tissue by converting the proteins there to fill the place of the missing carbs. Of course, that is only after it burns through your stored glycogen, but if you’ve been doing low or no carbs for a while and decide to take up weight lifting, it might not work out the way you want it to.

So, here’s your abbreviated version. Carbs do a lot for our bodies and aren’t quite the bad guys we try to make them out to be.

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Real quick: So, if I’m supposed to eat carbs, what’s with all of these low carb diets that are popular now?

 

Honest answer? I can’t tell you why some people are crazy, they just are. I’m just kidding. Mostly. It would be so easy for me to jump onto the low carb diet bandwagon, which is border-lining on a crusade nowadays, and tell you to vanquish the evil carbs. But I don’t believe in that, and if I wouldn’t prescribe it to my family, friends, or clients, I wouldn’t to you either. I know I couldn’t survive on a low carb diet, and from research it might not be healthy to even try (or if you do/have it’s certainly not healthy to do it long term).

Once again, if you do decide to try a low-carb diet go see your registered dietitian, or at the very least do some real research yourself, as a woman recently died because she did not know she had a disorder that caused a high protein/low-carb kind of diet to be deadly for her. Though this is more on the rare side, as mentioned in the article, it still wouldn’t hurt to have someone else knowledgeable talk to you face to face about you and your dietary needs.

Some people are going to fight me on this, and I’m telling you right now, I don’t want to hear it. If you don’t want to listen to me, that’s A-okay with me. Go see a dietitian and ask them what they think a good balanced diet should be. You can pay for the free information I am telling you now. I think that cutting carbs out of your diet or restricting them to a very low number (so low you’re willing to cut out even non-starchy vegetables) is someone’s quick fix solution to lose weight rapidly. And you can lose weight on said diet, but you can also lose weight while eating carbs and will likely be a lot better off for it.

Recently studies have been coming out that link low carb diets to a shortened life span. People are still so quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and do anything and everything in their power to prove you wrong and make you see that low-carb is the only life style and the quickest way to ultimate health (maybe they’re so grumpy because they need carbs), most without even doing any real research besides browsing through reddit. But I’m not here to attack anyone, or their beliefs. I am here to inform, so we can all learn, share, and grow together. I’m just trying to be very clear about all of this, because that’s what it takes sometimes.

 

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At its core, despite all of the masked promises, cutting out carbs is not the magic answer to your weight loss problems. Moving more and eating less is what we need to be turning our sights on. Despite moving more and eating less being the primary way to lose weight, there are a few exceptions to the rule that I would be wrong to not talk about. One exception being: Everybody Is Different. And I know that. You might get better, faster results from a slightly lower-carb diet (still on a healthy timeline though; don’t be crazy now). Your weight loss may be significantly slower on a high-carb diet.

Only trial and error (and insulin responses if that is something you are able to check), will tell, but I can tell you that it is never wise to cut them completely out or to lower them too far for too long (exceptions are bodybuilders, who have a team of people looking out for them, and only for a very short amount of time before a show are their carbs lowered). I myself cannot go too low on carbs before all aspects of my life begin to suffer (See: mood, relationships, work outs, will power, my sanity. Not that I have too much of that last one left, so I really have to be careful!).

I just truly do not believe it is a healthy or long-term sustainable way of living. Even other, big named, professionals do not think it is great either. From Dr. Kim Williams to Jillian Michaels, people are out there trying to teach and combat the newest diet crazes.

 

What kind are bad?

 

I love Krispy Kreme. Like to the point that if you say those two words together aloud in a five-mile radius of me, I’m going to have a real bad internal struggle over eating a whole box of doughnuts and lapsing into a food coma.

 

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But I know that when presented with a healthy and unhealthy choice I have to choose the healthier one to better fuel my body and my active lifestyle.

Now, here’s where we get a little more into personal preference and what someone personally believes is okay or not okay, and what works for them personally.

Low calorie ice creams may be your favorite thing in the world. You might still be able to lose weight for a while while eating them. You might not have adverse reactions to them in anyway, but they still aren’t the best option for you. The same thing can apply to white bread vs. whole grain bread. Whenever there is a healthier option, what possible reason can we give besides “it tastes good” for not allowing our bodies to have said healthier options?

Nobody here is saying “Never, ever, EVER eat these things.” (Believe me, nobody here would ever say that.) The advice here is pretty simple and easy to follow: These things need to be eaten in moderation. We need to be eating complex carbs, and not so much simple carbs. Because if your diet is composed of mostly these things you might not feel it right away, but over time your health can start to decline in many different ways.

The following need to be consumed in moderation, or be cut completely out of your diet:

  • Pizza and similar products (just because pizza rolls are smaller doesn’t mean they don’t count)
  • Soda
  • Sugar laden coffee drinks
  • Baked, no bake, or fried goods
  • Crackers
  • Fruit drinks (smoothies, juice, etc.…)
  • Sauces
  • Sugary cereals
  • Alcohol
  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Fried potatoes
  • White pasta
  • White bread
  • Ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard

Look, you guys are smart, so I don’t need to keep going. This list definitely gives you an idea of what not to consume.

Yes, there are many more ‘bad’ deemed carbs but this list paints a pretty good picture of what should not often grace your palate.

 

What kind are good?

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So, like above, some of this is subjective because certain things might not work for you. But you know most of what is down below to be true. Again, it all depends on what works best for your body; something below might give you a negative reaction. But most of the things below are healthier and better alternatives to a lot of the carbs you might be used to.

If you need any ideas of where to start the following list is a great place:

  • Potatoes
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Whole grains: Breads, cereal, pasta, steel cut oatmeal, etc.…
  • Beans and lentils
  • Rice
  • Chickpeas

Now you might be thinking a diet like this is extremely limited because of how short the list is comparatively, but let me tell you right now it’s not. This article would be far too long if I took the time to write out every kind of vegetable, fruit, whole grain, kind of beans and lentils, and-on-and-on-and-on. Ask yourself: Do you really want to sit here and listen to me ramble on longer?

There are quite literally hundreds of healthy recipes available to you online, all of them heavily featuring the foods mentioned above! No more excuses, only action.

 

Conclusion

 

If you know me (and I mean even if we passed once on the street two years ago), you’ll know that this song is an accurate depiction of my love for carbs and my willingness to do anything for them. (Also, this video is hilarious, and I wanted you to watch it with me. It’s hard to shoehorn things that barely make any sense into an article, but I think I’m mastering it.)

When are carbs the bad guys? When you eat too much of them. It’s just like everything else: Too much of a good thing is always bad. How much you should be eating exactly depends on a lot of personal factors relating solely to you. Some of which are: BMR, TDEE, Height, weight, etc.…

I don’t know about you, but I like a diet that, even while cutting (losing weight) is structured but not rigid. Losing weight is hard enough without restricting a whole macronutrient category. The only time carbs are going to harm you is in excess but remember we can eat an excess of anything and gain weight.

The bottom line? Carbs keep us in tip-top shape. They give us energy, which in turn gives us the ability to do the awesome things we do every day (And sometimes the not-so-awesome things. We all have Netflix weeks–I mean days sometimes).

Share below your favorite healthy carb recipes! And please don’t forget to like, share, and comment. I don’t know, whatever floats your boat.

One thought on “Carbs 101: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

  1. Kim Ledingham says:

    Excellent post!! Thanks for helping me understand that beans are carbs, just like my ice cream, but way better for me.

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