Trends like keto and low-carb diets have dominated popular media in recent years — leading people to avoid carbs and include almost little to none in their diet. With such a heavy restriction, some people can develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
Personally, I’m working on integrating carbs back into my diet — in a healthy and mindful way. After working through my “carb fear,” I want to share some insights with those who are going through the same ordeal. The hope is that we all get to build a healthier relationship with food and find a sustainable diet that best fits each of us.
Common misconceptions about carbs:
How much do we really know about carbs? Diet culture has almost demonized all types of carbohydrates and missed out on explaining why we should believe this to be true. Meanwhile, the benefits of several low-carb diets have been religiously proclaimed by mainstream media.
Carbs have developed such a bad rep that we stopped bothering to learn more about them and how they may benefit us. We’ve heard it multiple times: that carbs lead to weight gain, make you feel sluggish, and are really just sugar. But what’s the real scoop? Are these facts — or just common misconceptions?
“Only bread, pasta and rice are carbs.”
While growing up and learning about the food pyramid, we’re led to believe carbs only come in the form of either bread, pasta or rice. However, the fact is that there are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. It’s true that simple carbs can be found in refined grains, cakes and other baked goods; but they’re also found in fruits and vegetables. Complex carbs come from whole-grain bread and pasta, as well as legumes, potatoes and other starchy vegetables.
“Carbs only contain sugar.”
Carbohydrates turn into glucose in the body and raise our blood sugar. A lot of people avoid carbs for fear of spiking sugar levels — and that’s a legitimate concern. However, glucose provides energy and powers all bodily functions, so it’s not all bad. And, you can always opt for natural sugars found in fruits.
Carbs also contain dietary fiber that’s necessary for a well-rounded diet.
“It is crucial for keeping the gut healthy and reducing the risk of chronic health conditions,” according to an article in Medical News Today. In addition, a fiber-rich diet can help prevent heart diseases and diabetes.
“Protein is more important than carbs.”
Protein is an essential part of your diet, especially if you’re constantly on the move and live a very active lifestyle — but carbs are just as important. Both energy sources work together to help you process sugar more efficiently.
“Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs”
We can attribute these terms to diet promoters. While dividing them into “good” and “bad” seems like an easy way to manage carbs in our diet, there’s no hard, scientific line that separates the two. The main difference is the amount of fiber it contains.
Carbs typically labeled as “good” usually just have a high fiber content. They’re considered a healthier, “good” idea because they take longer to be broken down, therefore providing energy for the body for a longer amount of time. The fiber found in good carbs also helps regulate blood glucose. You can get good carbs from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, whole-grain foods and whole wheat.
Conversely, carbs labeled as “bad” are those with low fiber amounts, also known as refined carbs. These are usually processed carbohydrates like white rice, white bread and pasta, which have had their fiber and nutrients removed. Unlike in higher fiber-containing carbs, refined carbohydrates are digested quickly and the glucose is released into the bloodstream much faster.
Changing the way you look at carbs:
When on a popular, low-carb diet, people can become so averse to carbs that they start to feel ashamed and/or guilty when they do consume them. While these diets are popular, they may not be suitable for everyone. In reality, a diet that restricts carbohydrates to such an extent could actually cause issues such as hormonal imbalances in some people.
How to incorporate carbs back into your diet:
When I say I want you to embrace carbs, I want you to do this in a gradual and healthy way. And, it’s actually not as complicated as you think. There are several simple recipes that allow you to incorporate healthy carbs like whole grains.
Often, all you need to do to prepare them is to chuck these whole grains into a rice cooker and wait. In fact, rice cookers are great examples of an easy kitchen tool to spice up your cooking routine and are a great way to cook with carbs.
Reintegrating carbs back into your diet may be tricky, especially if you’ve been on a keto or low-carb diet for a while. Take it slow and follow these tips:
- Create a plan. It’s important to create a clear diet plan that helps you transition into having carbs regularly. Choosing high-protein and high-fiber carbs when you begin the reintegration. According to an article in Cleveland Clinic, bean-based pasta, crackers with seeds or sprouted breads, cashews and avocados are great, healthy foods to get you started.
- Reintroduce very slowly. Listen to your body as you go through this transition. Key in on how carbs make you feel, and make adjustments based on that. Dieticians recommend you start with 50 grams of carbs a day in the first few days; and work your way up back up to 75-100 grams daily.
- Portion sizes. Transitioning or adjusting to any type of eating style will always require appropriate portion sizes. With carbs, it’s especially easy to overdo them once you start to have them again. So do your research and find out what the proper serving size for one is, and stick to that.
Carbs are a major source of energy and nutrients. They should be embraced into a healthy diet, no matter what your fitness goal is!