100 Days Of Fitness

CARBOHYDRATES – What do you need to know?

by Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Carbohydrates are the latest target of the food police. Is this view warranted? Yes and no.

Added sugars and refined carbohydrates don’t contribute many nutrients to the body and often lead to overeating/weight gain. On the contrary, real food sources of carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and energy!

Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the body and brain. Carbohydrate is an umbrella term that includes simple sugars (mono- & di-saccharides), complex carbohydrates (starches), and fiber (undigested plant material). Most carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and absorbed into the blood; fiber slows this process. Blood sugar refers to the amount of “fuel” circulating in the blood that can:
– provide energy to cells now,
– be stored for short-term in the muscle or liver as glycogen, or
– become long-term energy storage in the form of fat.

The body will attempt to use glucose in that order. Carbohydrates turn into fat when calorie and carb needs are exceeded.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 45-65% of daily calories come from carbohydrates. That translates to 225-325 grams of carbohydrates a day on a 2,000 calorie diet. Recommendations for other calorie levels can be found at the SFGate blog. Also, check out Shape Magazine’s blog which lists a day of foods that make up 200 grams of carbohydrates.

Surprisingly, carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient. Some people safely enjoy “low carb”(50 to 150 grams) diets. Eating a low carbohydrate diet may help weight loss and improve conditions such as diabetes and insulin resistance. While the body and brain prefer carbohydrates, they can run on ketones too, which are produced when fat is broken down for fuel.

Key Points for Carbs:

  • Carbohydrate needs are personal. Some people do well on moderate carbohydrates and some better on low carb.  Evaluate your diet and decide what’s right for you. For instance, do you get “hangry” (hungry + angry) between meals? This is likely the result of a blood sugar crash and can be prevented by applying the next bullet point.
  • Quality is more important than quantity. Choose higher quality carbohydrates such as veggies, beans, whole grains and fruit; combine them with protein and fat for a satisfying meal. Ditch refined carbs and added sugars: most bread, crackers, flour tortillas, snacks, cakes, cookies, sugar sweetened beverages, etc. Learn more about quality carbs here.

Carbohydrates offer more than just vitamins, minerals, and energy! Carbs also can include fiber and resistant starch which have significant health benefits.

What Do I Need To Know About Fiber?

Fiber refers to carbohydrates that are not broken down by the body. Fiber slows the digestion and absorption of sugars and starches which leads to a more gradual energy release. There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber forms a gel when combined with water. Soluble fiber can help keep cholesterol levels in check because the “gel” sticks to bile acids, which contain cholesterol, and drag them out of the body when waste is eliminated. A few sources of soluble fiber include: nuts, beans, oats, vegetables, apples, pears, dates, and lentils.
  • Insoluble fiber is bulky roughage that acts like nature’s broom and keeps your insides clean as waste moves out of the body. Insoluble fiber promotes a feeling of fullness and helps with regular bowel movements, which is important to rid the digestive system of waste and toxins.

How much fiber should I eat?

The recommended daily amount of fiber for adults is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. After age 50, daily fiber needs drop slightly. Make half your plate vegetables and include a quarter plate of whole grains or beans at meals. Add fruit and nuts/seeds for breakfast or snack. Done!

Resistant starch?

Resistant starch is a newly discovered type of carbohydrate. Resistant starch is found in beans, oats, and under-ripe bananas/plantains and is created when certain foods, such as potatoes, pasta and rice are cooked and cooled. Resistant starch feeds the healthy bacteria in our small intestines that help modulate immunity and mental health. In addition, when the bacteria munch on resistant starch, they produce butyrate which contributes to colon health.

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, trained chef and owner of Culinary Enlightenment. Lauren’s nutrition background and culinary skills provide a unique blend of resources to help people plan meals, shop, cook, and eat better. For more than a decade, she has been teaching nutrition to children, adults and families through healthy cooking and eating.

Read more about Lauren here. Reach out to her via her website or better yet come to bootcamp and talk to her in person about your nutrition challenges. She has a lot of knowledge and is always ready to share it.