You may have heard that you have to cut carbohydrates (or “carbs”) out of your diet if you want to lose weight. Too many carbohydrates in your diet may get stored as fat, which can lead to weight gain and unhealthy fat around your belly. Weight gain caused by carbohydrates is only half the story. You need carbohydrates for a balanced diet. Carbohydrates are important to increase your energy, provide nutrients and even help you lose weight if you eat the right type of carbohydrates. You should never cut all carbs out of your diet. Your cells need carbs for energy production. Good carbs can be found in whole grains and unprocessed foods.
Any food that contains starch, sugar and fiber is a carbohydrate. During the digestive process, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which your cells use for energy. Plant-based carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates, composed of groupings of molecules linked in chains. Complex carbohydrates are single and double-chained sugars, which are found in whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates include sugars, which are often added to other foods for flavor. You can tell which foods contain simple carbohydrates because the sugars usually end with the letters “-ose” such as fructose and sucrose. Simple sugars have practically no nutritional value, lacking vitamins, minerals or other trace elements your body needs. Bad carbs are usually found in highly processed foods with added refined sugars and other ingredients that are not naturally found in food. The key to a healthy diet of carbohydrates is to focus on eating good carbs while avoiding bad ones.
The best types of carbs are those foods that are unprocessed and consumed in their “natural” state. Good carbohydrates provide your body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help combat cell damage by eliminating free radicals in your body. Raw vegetables are the most obvious source of unprocessed carbohydrates. Leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage, provide good carbs and a host of other important nutrients. Natural, unprocessed foods that you can include in your diet are raw nuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and walnuts. Beans, rice and whole grains are another important source of good carbs. Replace carbohydrates from highly processed white flour with minimally processed foods such as whole grain breads, crackers and pasta. Choose whole grain cereals, including whole oat, in your diet to get good carbs for energy without extra calories. Fresh, unprocessed fruits and berries are a delicious way to get your good carbs, as well as a myriad of other important nutrients and antioxidants.