Whose Afraid of the big bad Carb?
One of the things that so many of my clients are still confused about are carbohydrates - what is a carb? Are carbs good? Are all carbs bad? Depending on what book or article you read last, the answer can be anywhere from one extreme to the next.
So what is a carbohydrate - and why are some so much better than others? Without getting into chemistry - vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes all qualify as primarily carbohydrate foods - as for the why - ultimately, it all comes down to nutrient density. .
The recent demonization of carbs (everyone gets a turn it seems) has a lot to do with how many carbs people eat, when they eat them, their activity level, their genetic predispositions and which carbs they are eating. My position is the following: there is no one answer that will fit everyone, but, there are certain universal truths that I apply when considering a clients’ program. I will share them with you here - hopefully you walk away with a better sense of what might work best for you. Starting with what I consider the best and moving downwards to those that come with more qualifiers:
1. Everyone needs to eat vegetables. A LOT of vegetables - for the vitamins, the minerals, the polyphenols, the antioxidants, the fibre - there are literally no exceptions to this rule - if you have digestive issues you may need to focus on cooked vegetables but any way you slice it your Mother was right - eat your vegetables.
2. Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, winter squash and other root vegetables are higher in starch and hence in carbs than their leafy and fibrous cousins. Eat some of these to satisfy your starch/carb cravings whenever you can as they come in the company of all those nutrients mentioned above - in Nutrition-speak we call this nutrient density.
3. Fruit are also a source of carbs, they also come packaged with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and many other nutrients but, in many cases they also come with a lot of sugar. Depending on your goals and your activity levels (couch potato vs marathoner) you can enjoy anywhere from 2 or more servings of fruit per day. Just keep an eye on the sugar content - for most people your ceiling for sugar for each day should not exceed 48 grams if at all possible. If improved body composition is your goal then berries, lemons limes and the occasional apple are your best bets.
4. Grains - here we get into the meat (starch?) of the matter. Grains like wheat, rye, oats, barley, rice, amaranth, spelt, kamut,…..are heavy hitters when it comes to carbohydrate delivery. There is plenty of evidence that modern grains can be behind a lot of inflammatory issues and overwhelming evidence that if you sit around all day and pile on the pasta and the grains you will grow - not in a good way. To my clients who eat grains I recommend organic and sprouted grains for optimal nutrient density and digestibility (they still can’t hold a candle to vegetables - not even for fibre). And never in place of vegetables, protein and good fats. Of the lot, rice is my go to - it is easiest on the gut and can even help with sleep.
5. Beans and Legumes very contentious but again if we are just looking at carb content they are definitely high on the scale and relatively under deliver on nutrient density. That said, there are those who want and need their beans and legumes so to these people I suggest, soaking them well, eating sprouted versions whenever possible and listening to your body. One caveat though- if you’re tooting a different tune every time you eat a bowl of chili or chana masala your gut may be trying to tell you something.