Carbohydrates are really great, but they are often completely demonized.
We’re told to cut them out if we’re trying to lose weight or fight bloating, and sometimes there’s misleading information on social media from unqualified “experts” claiming that carbs can lead to certain diseases.
But in reality, most of us will benefit from maintaining the right carbohydrates in our diet.
We’re talking about whole carbohydrates like whole grains, oats, brown rice and beans as opposed to processed carbohydrates like pastries, cakes, chocolate, candy and white bread.
Registered Dietitian Megan Hilbert explains that carbohydrates are essential: “In fact, they are the primary source of energy for our bodies.”
She says: “They provide fuel for the nervous system, our organs, especially the brain, and muscle tissue.
“Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the years, but they’re important for a lot of functions in the body, like providing a quick source of energy for exercise, fueling the brain, which accounts for 20 percent of our energy needs, and fueling the cells in the body to keep us going.”
Some people need more carbohydrates than others. This could be due to higher activity levels or simply a faster metabolism in general.
“Some people are more sensitive to insulin and do well on a high-carb diet,” says Megan.
“These are people who use carbohydrates more quickly as an energy source and typically have a higher basal metabolic rate.”
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Our basal metabolic rate is essentially the energy our body needs to perform basic functions.
This involves breathing and pumping blood throughout the body.
For those who are more active, Megan explains, “Carbs actively support your workout and can replenish your energy stores when you’re done exercising, so you can perform well next time at the gym.”
“If you make sure you eat enough carbohydrates, you can also prevent muscle loss.
“If you don’t consume enough energy before and after a workout, your body may break down your muscles into tissues to provide a ‘backup’ source of energy.”
What are the best types of carbohydrates to eat?
Megan recommends whole carbohydrates like whole grains like wheat, rye, and barley, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, and legumes, and fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir.
Not sure if your carbohydrate intake is sufficient? Megan says these are the signs to look out for and could indicate you need to increase your carb intake…
1. You get irritated easily
Do you find that your fuse is getting shorter and shorter? Or you just lack the patience for something? You may want to add even more whole carbohydrates to your diet.
“Our brains thrive on carbohydrates and irritability is a sign that you may not be giving your brain the fuel it needs.
“It’s a classic sign of low blood sugar,” says Megan.
Adding a serving of carbohydrates to each meal can help avoid this irritability. Try oatmeal for breakfast, brown rice for lunch, and sweet potatoes for dinner.
2. You are often cold
Do you shiver even though everyone around you feels good?
“Eating fewer carbohydrates is linked to the risk of decreased thyroid function, which plays a key role in regulating body temperature,” says Megan.
3. Your workout suffers
We need carbohydrates to give us energy and we need lots of energy to get through a workout.
“Carbohydrates fuel muscle movement and without them you may not be able to perform at your best in the gym.
“If you tire easily, it may be a sign that your body needs more energy before and/or after exercise.”
Try a small carbohydrate and protein-based snack before exercise and a similar snack afterwards.
Cream cheese on oatmeal or a protein shake with oatmeal and berries are good options.
4. You experience brain fog
If work is tiring or you forget simple things, a diet that is too low in carbohydrates could be the culprit.
“Studies have shown that people who eat low-carb diets do worse on memory tests, and once carbs are added to the diet, those performance deficits disappear,” reveals Megan, who adds that 20 percent of our energy needs go to our brain, and carbs are our brain’s favorite source of energy.
5. Your digestion is irregular
It’s the fiber in whole grain carbs that help keep things moving, and most of us have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of not being able to “power up”.
If you have trouble digesting, consider increasing the amount of whole carbohydrate sources in your diet.
“Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources of fiber, and fiber plays an essential role in maintaining our regular bowel movements.
“Often when we cut carbs, we eat fewer of these foods,” says Megan.
6. Your weight loss efforts aren’t working
Cut carbs to lose weight? Your efforts might backfire.
Megan explains, “Unfortunately, if we really drastically cut carbs and calories, it can result in the body producing its own form of fuel from protein or fat and even storing that energy as fat, essentially preventing you from ‘starving’.”
So if you’re trying to lose weight, make sure you’re not eating carbs.
Instead, maintain a healthy amount while making sure you’re getting enough protein. the most filling macronutrient.