Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, tend to get a bad rap. This has led to low-carb diets popping up that promise quick weight loss and better health. However, for many people, cutting out or restricting carbs may do more harm than good.
Let’s break it down and discuss one of the most misunderstood nutrients: carbohydrates.
What’s the point of carbohydrates?
Food is energy. And carbs are our main energy source. After we eat carbs, they are broken down into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is the main type of sugar in our blood, which is used as our body and brain’s main source of energy.
This is why it’s not surprising to learn that those who start a very low-carb diet, like keto, often get brain fog and fatigue. This happens because the brain struggles to get enough glucose for proper function.
A low-carb diet can also lead to lower blood sugar levels, which, for most people, can cause feelings of fatigue, irritability or dizziness. Eating carbs consistently throughout the day can help prevent fatigue and improve your overall energy. However, it’s important to build balanced meals and snacks using the right type of carbohydrate.
Types of carbohydrates
There are two main types of carbohydrates: complex and simple.
Complex carbs are made from whole grains and contain fiber. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar, increases the feeling of fullness after eating and helps with digestion.
Examples of complex carbs include:
- Whole wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Beans and legumes
Non-starchy vegetables are also considered complex carbohydrates because they have fiber and are nutrient-dense. However, the amount of carbs in vegetables is very low.
Simple carbs are also known as processed or refined carbs. Refined carbs have been stripped of their fiber. Therefore, they are easier to break down and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Examples of simple carbs include:
- White bread
- White flour products
- Sweets and baked goods
- Sweetened beverages
The lack of fiber can cause spikes in blood sugar. This can make you feel energized right away. However, your blood sugar can drop shortly after, leaving you feeling hungry and tired.
Overall you may feel less satisfied from eating only simple carbs. They can make you feel full right after eating them but hungry much sooner. Simple carbs contain calories yet very little nutrients. When consumed in excess, they may lead to weight gain. Enjoying them every now and then is key!
Aim to choose whole grains and complex carbs the majority of the time. The 80/20 rule can be a helpful way to think about it. Choose complex carbs 80% of the time and enjoy simple carbs 20% of the time.
Build balanced meals and snacks
To increase energy and control blood sugar levels throughout the day, it’s important to balance your meal. Pair complex carbs with lean proteins, vegetables and healthy fats for a nourishing and balanced meal. Here are four example meals to inspire you.
Breakfast: Nutty oatmeal
- Complex carb: Oatmeal
- Proteins and healthy fats: 1-2 tablespoons cashew butter and hemp seeds
Lunch: Nourish bowl
- Complex carb: Quinoa
- Protein: Grilled chicken
- Healthy fat: Avocado slices (2 tablespoons or ¼ avocado)
- Vegetables: Cucumber salad with tomatoes and parsley
Dinner: Black bean tacos
- Complex carb: 2-3 corn tortillas
- Protein: Black beans (also a complex carb)
- Healthy fat: 2 tablespoons guacamole
- Vegetables: Chopped onion, tomatoes, lettuce and pico de gallo
Snack: Open-faced PB&J
- Complex carb: 1 slice of whole wheat bread and sliced strawberries
- Protein and healthy fat: 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter
Want more guidance on healthy eating?
Check out the many ways you can benefit from working with a Teladoc dietitian.
By Anna Rios, RDN (@healthysimpleyum)
We’ve partnered with Daily Harvest to provide expert advice to help people stay on top of their eating habits. They make it easy with plant-forward menu options to help you get through the week without the hassle.
Published March 2, 2022