Let’s talk about big, bad, CARBOHYDRATES. Carbs unfortunately get a bad rap, but it’s crucial to understand that not all carbs are created equal. The right carbs give us usable energy, facilitate healthy digestion, and support a healthy weight. On the other hand, too many refined carbs increase our risk of chronic inflammation, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Refined carbs come in the form of white flour, pasta, and bread and have low nutritional value, causing a spike in blood sugar. Aside from refined carbs, there are two main categories of carbohydrates: simple and complex. This basically refers to the chemical structure of the molecules that make up the food.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly providing a quick burst of energy when consumed. They are words that end in “ose”= glucose, sucrose (sugar), lactose (dairy), fructose (fruit & honey), and maltose (malt sugar). Now fruit is tricky because it provides us with so many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, it does naturally contain sugar so being mindful of your intake is important. That is why most of my smoothies these days are fruitless! Some days I do add 1/2 a frozen banana (I need potassium) or berries (which are low glycemic index fruits).
My recent go-to smoothie recipe:
- 1 cup unsweetened The New Barn almond milk
- handful of spinach
- 1 tsp matcha powder
- 1 scoop Tone it Up vanilla protein powder
- 1 scoop Furtherfood collagen peptides
- handful of ice
- 1 tbsp bulletproof MCT oil
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
Complex carbohydrates are just that: complex. They require more time to break down, slowing digestion and absorption and preventing extreme changes in our blood glucose levels. Complex carbohydrates include starches and fiber. Examples include: whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley), beans/legumes, and vegetables. These foods are good sources of fiber so they help to manage our weight and support cardiovascular health. The fiber also helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, allowing us to avoid spikes and maintain more consistent blood sugar levels.
Complex carb meal: Toasted sweet potato topped with homemade pesto, arugula, peas, pomegranates, and everything bagel seasoning!
All carbs are eventually broken down into glucose to be used for immediate energy, or to be stored when energy is needed. Foods high in refined/simple carbohydrates, (hello sugar), cause our blood glucose to increase rapidly. Over time this can be incredibly taxing on our system. Every time we eat carbohydrates, the hormone insulin is required. Its job is to carry carbs which have been broken down into glucose, to our cells. High blood sugar spikes (due to consumption of simple & refined carbs) may result in less effective production of insulin, which can be referred to as decreased insulin sensitivity. This is a major risk for type 2 diabetes. Also, a diet high in carbohydrates could mean unused glucose in the body, which stores in the liver or is converted to fat.
VEGAN sweet potato and black bean avodilla with homemade cashew cream
So what does this all mean? Well obviously we aren’t going to stop eating our fruits and vegetables! So while fruits and veggies are made up of carbohydrates, we need to continue eating them for all of their nutritional benefits. I personally don’t think I could live without complex carbohydrates. I enjoy my brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. However, I’ve drastically crowded out refined carbs and am extremely aware of simple carbohydrates and their affect on the body. I rarely have dairy and have limited amounts of fructose. When I think about carbohydrates I don’t categorize them as “bad” or deprive myself, but I am mindful of their function and how the body uses glucose. When planning out my meals, I strive to fill my plate with the right kinds of foods and a balance of macronutrients so that I’m satisfied upon eating. So instead of inhaling a bowl of pasta and a basket of bread, I might opt for lean protein over quinoa with some dark leafy greens. I’ve been on a Zoodles (spiralized zucchini) kick lately. You can buy these pre-cut at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and (I’ve been told) Costco. I’ve tried zucchini, sweet potato, and carrot and love them all. I’ve also seen beet and butternut squash!
Zoodles topped with homemade pesto, chickpeas, pomegranates, carrots & peas!
Food for thought: Are your meals macronutrient-balanced? (fat, protein, carbohydrates). Also, I highly recommend crowding out refined and simple carbohydrates. Not only will you feel better (less bloated) but you’ll notice improved energy levels!