Ah that little four letter word: "CARB." So many of us cringe merely at the mention of it. Or we feel panicked when the waiter sets the breadbasket on the table when we are out to dinner. The reality of it is far less frightening. The fact is there are many forms of carbohydrates, and most of them are essential to our health and well being. Here I will discuss some of the most common misconceptions about carbohydrates and uncover the not-so-hidden health benefits they offer.
Carb Misconception #1: A Carb is a Carb is a Carb
Not all carbs are created equal. Carbohydrates come in many different forms like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Many of the popular "trend" diets such as Atkins and the 4 Hour Body have taught us that eating carbs will cause us to gain weight by converting into sugar (and then fat) in our bodies. Let me clear some things up. Carbs can basically be broken down into two categories. First there are refined, or simple carbs such as white bread, white pasta, baked goods, white rice, flour tortillas, and the like which are indeed, bad. They are mainly anemic and void of any nutritional substance. White carbs are stripped of their fiber and nutrients and are then further refined and bleached. They turn into simple sugars in the body, which then causes a spike in insulin levels and can cause us to gain weight. Then there are complex carbs, which are great! These consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Complex carbs are packed with fiber, micro nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are essential to our health. Complex carbs are what provide our body with glucose (energy) - which is absolutely essential to normal brain and nervous system functioning.
Carb Misconception #2: Eating Carbs Causes Weight Gain
Many people think that a diet high in carbohydrates, whether it be from sugar, fruit, vegetables, or bread will cause them to gain weight, and people therefore do their best to avoid them like the plague. The reason this misconception has been perpetuated is because some carbohydrates raise insulin levels which in turn, lowers blood sugar resulting in increased appetite. However, the truth is gaining weight from eating carbs depends largely on the type of carbohydrates you are consuming. If you were to eat a diet high in refined or simple carbohydrates (mentioned above), then yes, you will most likely gain weight as they break down to simple sugars and are easily digested, which means you feel hungrier faster. Complex carbs on the other hand, are made up of mostly fiber and other essential nutrients and take much longer to digest, keeping you fuller longer. They will actually help you lose weight and keep it off for good. If you deprive your body of the carbohydrates it needs for too long, your body will begin to crave them and will start to convert dietary protein stored in your muscles into glucose (energy) by breaking down your muscle mass. This can lead to anemia. And nobody wants that! Health promoting, fat burning carbohydrates are whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, barley, vegetables, fruits, and legumes like black beans and lentils. Eating a diet rich in whole grains, veggies, fruits, and lean proteins will get you svelte in no time while simultaneously reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.. Its a win win!
Carb Misconception #3: Carbs Give Me Indigestion
Many people blame their bloated, gassy tummy troubles on carbs in general, without knowing what is really causing their indigestion. The culprit is usually gluten. Gluten is a protein composit found mainly in wheat, barley and rye. It is what gives bread its chewy texture. Gluten is a sticky substance that some people are sensitive or intolerant of. Symptoms can include bloating, gas, stomach cramping, indigestion, lethargy, and headaches. The good news is, there is much more awareness about gluten sensitivities now than ever before and more and more gluten free foods are becoming available. Try cutting gluten out of your diet for three weeks and see how you feel. Another cause of stomach upset from carbohydrates comes from brown rice. Brown rice contains phytic acid which binds to zinc and calcium in the body and can inhibit their absorption. Some people's digestive tracts are sensitive to phytic acid, too. A great way to release phytic acid is to soak your grains overnight before consuming them. Simply place your rice in a pot with warm water, cover, and let it soak. Rinse and cook as usual the next day. This will greatly reduce the phytic acid and any chances of stomach upset. Quinoa is another one that can cause tummy troubles such as diarrhea, indigestion, and bloating if not rinsed properly. Quinoa has a naturally occurring pesticide on it and MUST be rinsed thoroughly before being consumed. Quinoa is an excellent source of protein and is actually a superfood! It is great whole grain and can be substituted for rice, and even pasta.
So as you see, not all carbohydrates are the devil. A healthy, well balanced diet should include plenty of fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and should limit the consumption of "bad" carbs such as white breads, pastas, baked goods, sugary drinks, fancy coffee drinks, cookies, candies, and white rice. You get the picture.