If you’ve been into eating healthy for any length of time you’ve probably considered “cutting carbs.”
But what’s really up with this macronutrient? Why do we crave carbs, and are they really as evil as they’re made out to be?
If you’re just as confused as Regina George (“is butter a carb?”) we’re here for you. Consider this your crash course in carbs.
What exactly is a carb?
To get a little scientific, carbohydrates are a macronutrient (along with fat and protein) made up of three atoms: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They come in 3 forms: sugar, starch, and fibre.
Fibre is not directly used as energy, but provides multiple benefits for digestive health. Sugar and starch-based carbs provide 4 calories per gram and are broken down into glucose, which your body then uses as energy or stores as fat.
How rapidly this breakdown occurs further divides carbs into two categories: simple and complex.
Simple Vs. Complex Carbs
Simple carbohydrates are the refined, processed, non-whole food carbs. Common offenders include white flour, white sugar, and white rice. These foods are usually high in calories but low in nutrients.
Simple carbs convert to glucose very rapidly due to a lack of fibre, fat or protein to slow the conversion. This kick starts your ride on the “blood sugar roller coaster” by causing a quick spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash. Then, when your blood sugar is low, your body starts looking for more energy. This means craving more carbs, and re-boarding the ride.
Riding this rollercoaster all day every day, can cause mood swings, trouble focusing, and eventually hormonal problems like diabetes.
If you eat whole foods, you’re going to avoid the blood sugar spikes and dips.
Complex carbohydrates found in whole foods act as a slow-release of energy. These unrefined carbs from nature include plenty of fibre and proteins, meaning our bodies take longer to convert them into glucose.
When you eat complex carbohydrates, your blood sugar rises and falls steadily, skipping the ride on the rollercoaster. By the time you need more energy, it’s actually time for your next meal.
To get you fuelling the right way, we're counting down the top 5 healthiest complex carb sources.
PS: For members of That Clean Life, we have also included simple, delicious meals you can add to your meal plans.
5. Whole Grains
We believe in consuming grains as nature intended! That means whole. Oats, quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat groats are some good examples but the list goes on.
Whole grains are an amazing low-fuss breakfast option. Overnight oats are a favourite around here, like these insanely delicious Zucchini Bread Overnight Oats.
Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and other beans are a seriously humble super food. Not only are they a great source of complex carbohydrates, they are also high in fiber, iron, and plant-powered protein.
Legumes are easy to add to soups, salads, and stews. For the perfect balance of complex carbs, fats and protein check out this Curried Lentil, Kale & Broccolini Salad.
Whole fruits contain the perfect balance of sugar and fibre, to protect against blood sugar spikes.
Bonus Points: Fruit also comes with anti-oxidants to protect your cells!
Adding fruit to your salad is a great way to keep your blood sugar stable, and fuel with micronutrients. Our Grilled Pineapple and Chicken Salad uses pineapples and blueberries for great digestion and antioxidant support.
Squash like butternut, pumpkin and acorn are amazing sources of not only healthy carbs but also micronutrients like vitamin A for glowing skin.
Pro Tip: Use spaghetti squash to replace refined flour pastas.
It's so easy to get creative with squash. Try our Sausage & Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash for a cozy meal with staying power.
1. Roots & Tubers
Veggies like beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and parsnips that grow underground are incredibly nourishing, grounding and energizing. Rich in minerals from the earth, these are some of the best carb sources around.
If you're craving some cleaned up comfort food, we've got you covered with our epic Sweet Potato Lasagna.
The bottom line?
Carbs are your body's preferred source of fuel. So unless you have been advised by a healthcare professional to avoid carbs, they should play a key part in your diet. Just remember that not all carbs are created equal, so choosing wisely is key!