Understanding what’s in your plate: Good carbohydrates vs bad carbs

While fear of eating certain food groups has benefited the health food industry, all it has done is created more stress among people who are looking to lose weight or stay fit. Instead of stressing out and trying to follow your best friend's diet or caving to the latest social media health video its paramount that we understand what we eat and why.

Your diet is primarily made up of three food groups: protein, carbohydrates and fats and the presence of each group on your plate is necessary for enabling a healthy lifestyle.

Carbohydrates, the most misunderstood food group has been a constant word in most diet plans especially fat loss ones. Since the advent of diets like Atkins, Ketogenic and Paleo, carbs ave taken a real beating and gained a bad name. To complicate things further, there has been a stark division made between what can be classified as good and bad carbohydrates. While the lesser processed ones are quickly put into the spectrum of good and the other into bad, it is really crucial to understand what carbohydrates are made of and the purpose they aim to fulfill.

Understanding carbohydrates and a guide to eating healthy

Carbs serve as the main fuel for the body as they are present in almost all kinds of food we eat including grains, vegetables and fruit. However, all carbohydrates aren’t equal and owing to different structures found in different foods, the effects they have on your body are different too. Carbs an broadly be divided into simple and complex solely on the basis of the function it performs on your body.

Simple Carbohydrates

These are also known as empty foods because they lend almost zero nutritional value to your diet. The simple sugars present in foods rich in simple carbohydrates is known to raise your blood sugar level in a jiffy and give rise to insulin spikes.

They’re not all that bad

However, even though most forms of simple carbohydrates should be avoided, it isn’t all that bad. It is the best source of instant energy as the carbohydrates are absorbed in your bloodstream and gets converted into glucose almost instantly. This glucose is then used to fuel your brain and muscles under anaerobic conditions when oxygen is scarce. Simple carbohydrates also provide energy that you can store to use at a later time. Simple sugars are converted into glycogen which can be stored in the liver and muscles and fat stored in adipose tissues. However, one needs to tread very carefully because over-consumption of simple carbohydrates can affect your fitness goals drastically.

What to eat and what not to eat?

Foods rich in simple carbohydrates are raw sugar, brown sugar, flour, fruit syrup concentrate, baked desserts, breakfast cereal, soda, packaged cookies etc. It is best to avoid them completely or indulge in them sparingly!
However, a few simple carbohydrate rich foods like mangoes, raisins, bananas and milk are recommended and can be consumed daily.

Complex carbohydrates

Also promoted as good carbohydrates, foods containing complex carbohydrates consist of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Because of the abundance of fiber in these kinds of carbohydrates, the digestion procedure is slow which causes a slow release of glucose in the bloodstream. Thus, there is no insulin spike and complex carbohydrates will keep you feeling full for longer periods of time. This carbohydrate is labelled “good” solely because it doesn’t get stored in your body as fat like simple ones.

Benefits of complex carbohydrates

These carbohydrates get absorbed into the bloodstream slowly and keep your energy levels fuelled for a long time. Foods rich in complex carbohydrates are also known help you maintain your weight and act as a guard against Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Image credit : American heart Institute

Foods to consume

Complex carbohydrates include food items like whole grain pasta, oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, nuts, whole wheat bread etc. It is advisable to load up on these foods for sustained energy.

How many carbohydrates should you be eating in a day?

While the quantity of carbohydrates required differs from person to person and the goals you are focusing on, it is suggested by most dietary guidelines that 40-60% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

If your aim is to maintain your current weight and muscle mass, it is recommend that you consume 150 to 400 grams of carbohydrates daily. If you are a sedentary person looking to drop some pounds quickly, you can try consuming fewer carbohydrates- between 50 to 150 grams as it restricts consumption of starches and simple sugars which helps you drop weight quickly. Another new type of diet called the Ketogenic diet restricts your carbohydrate consumption to only 20 to 50 grams daily which causes rapid weight loss but at the same time leads to issues like muscle mass depletion and hair fall.

Carbohydrates are an important term all of us need to comprehend and understand because it forms a huge part of our daily lives. Moreover, it is necessary to keep experimenting with types and quantities to find the right fit for your requirement. Remember your body is unique and has its own requirement of carbs, it’s dependent on your lifestyle, age and your daily activities. Carbs needn’t be the dreaded word,you simply need to know which ones are the killers and try to stay away from them.

Also read: How to Avoid Sugar Sabotage

  • Written byNiharika Nandi

    Niharika Nandi is a media trainee who loves exploring the fields of photography and baking simultaneously. She’s a self-proclaimed professional bathroom singer and believes that caffeine runs through her veins. This adrenaline junkie loves to pen down a million thoughts gushing through her mind at any instant and is very vocal about LGBTQ rights.


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