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Do you feel out of control if you eat carbs, think they’re bad for you, or fear you’ll gain weight if you have too much? Are you afraid to allow yourself to eat carbs because of this?

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are often thought of as the “bad guy” of the 3 macronutrients – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  Unsubstantiated claims can get stuck in your head – like carbs make you gain weight, carbs cause diabetes, or sugar is addicting. This has led to a lot of fear around eating carbs– even when it comes to ones that are better for us like fruit and whole grains.

If you find yourself also fearing carbs – have no fear. This article will address exactly what you need to know to feel confident and comfortable incorporating carbs into your diet.

What foods are considered carbs 

There are many foods that contain a small amount of carbohydrates. However, the true carbohydrate-containing foods include breads, pasta, rice, whole grains such as farro, quinoa, oats, and barley, beans, starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, and squash, and fruit. 

Cookies, cakes, donuts, and candy are also considered carbohydrates. Also included are sweetened beverages like soda, juice, and sweetened coffees. However, not all carbs are created equal all of them serve a purpose in our diet.

Simple vs. complex carbohydrates

Carbs are broken into 2 categories – simple and complex. Simple or “refined” carbs include sugar-sweetened cereals, beverages, cookies, candy, cakes, white bread, pasta, or white rice. When you see the word “refined” on a nutrition label, it means that food has been processed or altered in some way. Through this process, a lot of nutrients are often lost.

Complex carbs include whole grain carbs like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pastas, grains like quinoa, farro, or barley, starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, squash, corn, and fruits.  At least 50% of your grains should come from whole grains, according to the latest dietary guidelines. Therefore, they can be added to every meal without anxiety or stress.

While carbs are an important component of your diet, it is important to know how much you should have. Too much of anything isn’t good. To start, make your plate 1/4 carbohydrates from any of the complex carbs listed.

What to look for on the nutrition label

Look for the terms “whole grain” or “whole wheat” as one of the first ingredients on the food label to know if its a true whole grain product. If it says “refined” or “enriched” it is not a whole grain and likely is stripped of a lot of its fiber and vitamins. It doesn’t mean this product is bad, but it is a less nutritious choice and less filling due to the lack of fiber. When you eat a lot of refined carbs, you may feel more hungry and crave sugar more often.

If you choose refined carbs, pair them with protein and fiber such as chicken, fish, beans, and plenty of veggies to provide you with longer-lasting energy. In doing this you’ll have less cravings in between meals and will prevent a sugar crash. If you frequently experience cravings, especially at night, eating a more balanced diet including carbs can help you manage this.

Why we need carbs

Carbs are your brain’s primary energy source. This is why it is very on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet to experience brain fog initially. When your diet is very low in carbs, your brain is not able to access it’s primary energy source. It therefore relies on ketones as a secondary, less preferred energy source. Additionally, many carbohydrate-containing foods are healthy and nutritious foods. If we avoided many of the complex carbs noted above, our diet would be lacking in fiber and important vitamins to function optimally.

How to eat carbs and still meet your health goals

You can absolutely eat carbs at every meal and still meet your health goals.  Pair your carbs with a good quality protein or healthy fat and you will have longer-lasting energy.  Limiting carbs too much may cause brain fog, lack of energy and focus, and nutritional deficiencies. Make 1/4 of your plate complex carbohydrates. Make at least half of your carbs whole grains and you will be on your way to a healthy, satisfying diet you can sustain.

If you are struggling with losing weight and knowing what you should eat, I’m here to help. Contact me to schedule a free strategy call so you can get support and guidance on losing weight the right way.