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Carb Confusion - The Good & The Bad

Carbohydrates are misunderstood creatures, too often labeled as criminals by many of us who want to drop a few pounds.  But the truth is that carbs come in a variety of forms and are essential to a healthy diet.  

Carb Breakdown

Quite simply, a carbohydrate is a chemical compound used for bodily energy.  Most often, you hear them categorized into “complex” and “simple” carbs, with complex being the preferred choice. Complex carbs are many chains of sugars, typically called starches or fibers.  You can find these saccharides in foods such as grains, vegetables, beans, etc.  Because of their complexity, the body breaks them down slowly so they don’t spike your insulin levels.  They’re also denser in nutrients. Simple carbs are single or double-chained sugars that can be easily identified by their names.  More often than not, they’ll end with the suffix “ose”.  Examples include glucose, lactose, fructose, sucrose, etc.  The body is able to break these down quicker, leading to the idea that they increase your insulin levels and result in fat gains.

Are Simple Carbs Bad for You?

There’s a lot of confusion about simple carbs.  Many claim that foods, such as fruits, are bad for fat loss because they contain fructose.  That’s because they are erroneously categorized with high-fructose corn syrup, which is a much more dense form.  While an access of fructose will lead to fatty acids, the amount in fruits is minimal.  It takes a hefty amount to reach those levels.  The reality is that whole fruits contain many vitamins and minerals and can even help with fat loss. In addition, many fruits and vegetables also contain the simple carb, glucose.  On an average day, your brain burns about 100 to 130 grams of glucose per day.  So eliminating simple carbs from your diet can lead to a lethargic state, which can be catastrophic if you are also trying to exercise regularly.

The Real Nutritional Bully: Processed Carbs

The culprits behind the carb craze are the refined and processed carbohydrates that are widely available in every aisle of the supermarket.  Remember, you want to balance natural carbohydrates to help optimize your training, but you definitely don’t want to slow things down by consuming carbs that have been leeched of all nutritional value. Processed carbs are refined sugars that are probably the single most responsible food that leads to poor health.  These are carbs that have been handled so much that they offer only empty surplus calories.  Think white breads and pastas, chips, crackers, etc. But don’t be thrown off by a food label just because it says it contains sugars.  Oftentimes these sugars come from natural sources.  To spot processed carbs on a nutrition label, look for high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, rice sugar, dextrose, invert sugar, sucrose, brown sugar, glucose syrup and turbinado sugar.

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Photo Courtesy of: Emily Carlin

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