Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Carbohydrate Question

One of the thought processes that I had to overcome when I started my fitness journey was that carbs were bad.  The very first time that I lost a significant amount of weight (without trying) was on that ever so popular Atkins diet.  But like most people, I did it wrong.  I just followed it based on hearsay without even reading the book. I could eat meat, OK then, so I ate two servings of McDonald’s bacon every morning on my way to work.  I could eat dairy, OK, I ate slices of velveeta cheese like it was candy.  I lost weight and it worked like a charm right before my wedding, but I think I was mostly starving myself as opposed to actually ‘dieting.’  Little did I know the stuff I was feeding my body was the reason why I felt so sluggish and depressed.  I lacked the energy to do-basically anything.

Less than a year later, all my weight was back.  Sigh.

Most popular low-carb diets today treat carbs as if they’re evil and the root of all body fat and excess weight.  And, there is some evidence that (if done correctly) a low-carb diet may help people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet, although this evidence is mostly a short-term fix.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.  When you eat a carbohydrate, your body eventually breaks it down into glucose, or sugar, which is then used as energy.  The difference between simple and complex carbs is the rate at which it is broken down.  Simple carbs offer no health benefits and is broken down quickly, turning into sugar and making you feel hungry quicker, contributing to weight gain.

Complex carbs are broken down slowly; you’ll feel fuller longer and have more energy for a longer period of time.  They provide your body with fuel for physical activity and for proper organ function as well as being an important part of a healthy diet.

That’s basically the difference.
Simple Carbohydrates – feel hungrier longer, no nutritional benefits
Complex Carbohydrates – Nutritional benefits, feel fuller longer, have more energy.
Seems like a no-brainer to me.

It is recommended that complex carbs should supply about half the calories in your diet, or, consumed 3-5 times per day.

So, what are the Complex Carbohydrates you ask?

The best are listed below, and what I currently eat in my diet prescribed by my personal trainer.

Whole Grains
Brown Rice

What to avoid a.k.a. Simple Carbohydrates:

Anything containing white flour
White or brown sugar
White rice

The bread question.  What breads can you eat?

Look for breads that say 100% whole wheat or whole grain.  Even better, low carb specialty breads or sprouted grain breads like Ezekial which can be found in the natural section of your grocery store or at specialty natural grocers.

Avoid processed cereals with little fiber.  Best choices are oatmeal, or cold cereals with extra fiber like All-Bran.

This list isn’t as dreadful as it sounds.  For instance there are plenty of rice-mixtures out there that are without white rice, and can be doctored up in any number of ways with seasonings and veggies.  I also get brown-ricecakes (yes they do exist), and pile on the hummus when I’m craving a Mediterranean treat.  I’ve also been known to sprinkle cinnamon and splenda on them and pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds when I want something sweet.  Yams are also a sweet alternative if that’s what you crave, just forgo the butter and sprinkle salt and pepper with some olive oil instead.  I also have a killer black bean and yam chili recipe here.

I hope this clears up some carb confusion, and don't forget to add complex carbs to your already nutritious diet of healthy proteins and fats.  You'll have more energy, and probably lose a few pounds!

Thanks for reading!
Marcy from Life's Gristle



  1. thanks so much for the lesson on carbs as my husband is probably diabetic (waiting for results) and I know carbs play a big part in his diet.

  2. I love this post Marcy! I'm on a modified low-carb diet right now and it's working really well for me. I say "modified" because I eat less than 100g per day which is a lot higher than most low carb diets. I do it this way because I workout quite a bit and I need at least that much to fuel my body. I'm glad someone in the blogosphere has covered this because it is such a hot topic and way of dieting these days. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! My favorite whole wheat bread is Grandma Sycomore's Whole Wheat High Fiber bread. Only 10g carbs per slice and made with NO dairy, NO eggs, and NO preservatives. It tastes so yummy too :) Have a great day!


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