Carbohydrates: Enemy or Ally?

Ah, carbohydrates. The first kinds of food that people eliminate in order to lose weight are those that have carbohydrates, or carbs, as people would say.

But here’s an important fact for you to remember: your brain needs carbohydrates to function well.

Wait, what? Carbohydrates are actually necessary so that you can function and do everyday things well?

That’s exactly what their crucial role is for your body. So, are they the enemy of healthy eating or the ally?

Carbohydrates are more of our ally than our enemy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides or precautions to take when incorporating them into our daily meals.

Here are a few things you need to know about carbohydrates. Hopefully, it’ll help you to have a better understanding of what it is beyond bread and pasta.

1. Carbohydrate food sources are digested and broken down into glucose.

After they’re broken down into glucose, also known as blood sugar, it’s in the bloodstream and it is circulated to the organs, muscles, and brain, where it can provide the energy for them to function well. Glucose that’s in the brain helps to do things like concentrating and making decisions.

With a deficiency in carbohydrates, it becomes hard to think and you may have difficulty focusing and making decisions. Because the brain cannot store glucose, it needs a reliable source, carbohydrates.

2. Kids are restricted in how much they can store carbohydrates in muscles.

Carbohydrates are vital for young athletes to perform well. However, young athletes are cautioned against loading up on carbohydrates before games and practices.

Instead, parents and coaches should encourage young athletes to eat a high-carbohydrate diet everyday, and they must monitor how many servings of the variety of carb food sources that they have daily.

3. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates have glucose and they enter the bloodstream quickly. The body doesn’t have to do a lot to digest foods that have simple carbohydrates in them.

Examples: sugar, syrup, honey, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, candy, 100% fruit juices, sports drinks, most desserts, and anything made of sugar.

Complex carbohydrates include food sources that are rich in fiber and starches, such as whole grains, whole fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. They take more time to digest. All of them have to go through digestion in order to break them down into their simplest form before they can circulate to body cells, and do their job.

Examples: fruits (bananas, oranges, berries, mangos, raisins and peaches), vegetables (potatoes, corn, broccoli, green beans, and carrots), grains (breads, crackers, pasta, rice, and cereal), and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese).

4. It’s all about portion sizes and moderation.

In my post, What Healthy Eating Actually Is, I wrote that there are no such things as “good” foods and “bad” foods, and that’s important to keep in mind. But what’s more important to keep in mind is that it’s not always about what you eat or about elimination, but about how much of it you consume per day.

A majority of your meals should include a combination with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, and though you can definitely have high-sugar foods, I recommend that it be consumed a minimal amount per day.

For youth athletes, after the carbs are consumed and in their bodies, the next thing to focus on is the timing of when they’re eaten: before, during, and after competition and practices. I’ll delve deeper into that in another blog post.

Image: Bigstock

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