I know, I know, we’ve all heard ad nauseum about “low carb” diets, Atkins, Zone, Paleo etc. We have had it drummed into our heads over the past decade that carbs are evil and we need to be eating bacon and burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, let’s have a heart-to-heart about this.
First of all, ANY “diet” that tells you to completely cut out a food group (unless it’s crappy processed, sugar- and fat-filled foods – I’m behind that “diet” 100%) is not going to be healthy for you. The human body needs variety – beans, meat or seafood (in moderation, or similar substitutes), a plethora of colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy or a dairy-substitute (like almond milk, etc.). We don’t get all the vitamins and minerals we need from just one or even a couple food groups. We really need to keep our diet fresh and diverse to ensure maximum nutrients – and maximum health.
As for carbs, especially for you athletes – listen up! First of all, let’s talk about what’s meant by “carbs.’ This is where I think so much of the confusion lies. Carbohydrates, in their most natural form, provide fiber (important for digestive health and to maintain cholesterol and triglyceride levels), simple sugars (for quick energy!) and starch (longer-term energy and blood sugar regulation). Carbs are easily broken down for rapid energy (important for runners and other athletes, but also everyday folks – like kids who need energy to learn and play!). Our body doesn’t digest and process fats and protein nearly as fast, so carbs are an important source of energy while we’re waiting around for the rest of that food to make it through our GI tract and into our bloodstream as energy. Have you ever tried to go for a run right after eating a big steak? Or play soccer after eating nothing but cheese? Yeah, not so much.
And let’s be clear: Carbs are NOT just things like breads, pastas, rice, chips, crackers, cookies, etc. Carbs are whole grains such as quinoa, steel-cut oats, brown rice, barley, polenta, couscous and more. Carbs are FRUIT – of all kinds! Carbs are vegetables – of ALL kinds! Carbs are in milk, yogurt and other dairy-rich foods. And, carbs are in beans of all kinds – pinto, black, garbanzo, kidney, soy, peas, etc.
So, get it out of your head that you’re going to “cut out carbs,” because that’s not going to happen. There really wouldn’t be a lot of food groups left. Nor should it ever happen.
But, what you want to be thinking about is this: How close to “REAL” or “WHOLE” are your carbs? Did the food in question pretty much come straight from a plant or the ground (or the cow)? If so, GREAT! Or, did it have to get stripped, milled, strained, pressed, dehydrogenated, enriched, or otherwise processed in a factory? Does it look anything like the initial product/fruit/vegetable it was made of? Or is it unrecognizable (think corn flakes and their complete lack of resemblance to real corn)? Was sugar added separately? Was oil, butter, hydrogenated fat or some other fat-like substance added to it? THESE are the things we want to watch out for. Look at labels. Read up on the foods you’re buying. It can be super interesting (and horrifying at times).
I will talk more about the proper ratio of carbs in your diet, especially for athletes, in a future post. In the mean time, the general guidelines say that 40-60% of your diet should be comprised of carbs (with the remainder split about 50:50 between fats and proteins), so be thinking of this as you plan your meals in the coming days. How can you add these super healthy “happy carbs” to your diet?
NOW, GO EAT SOME CARBS!