Happy National Nutrition Month! All March long we’re talking nutrition In honor of NNM. To celebrate, I’m using my littler corner of the internet to educate my couples about our key energy-producing nutrients: carbs, fats, and protein. Today I’m going to drop some knowledge about our most important, but misunderstood, nutrient. Let’s get real about the C-word: CARBOHYDRATES.
These little bundles of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen make up key elements of how the human body functions. Yet somehow they earned the adjective that is given to the enemy nutrient du jour: “bad”.Before we start pointing fingers and going on an obesity witch hunt to destroy the bad carbs, let’s take a step back to learn a little about what we’re dealing with.
WHERE DOES ENERGY COME FROM?
In order to get out of bed every day, go to work, drive a car, and laugh with your significant other, you need energy. Just like you put gas in your car to make it go, we need to put calories in out body to make it move ad groove. We get calories from three nutrients: carbs, fats, and protein. Each of these nutrients have calories that give us energy, earning the title macronutrients. Contrary to popular belief, vitamins, minerals, and water don’t give us energy directly, which is why we call them micronutrients. Here’s the role our main nutrients play for us:
- Carbohydrates: our main energy-producing nutrient. Preferred source of energy for brain and muscles for function and movement
- Fats: stored energy that our body will use as a last resort after available carbs are gone. Also used for cushioning, insulation, create some hormones, and vitamin absorption
- Protein:pretty much use for everything EXCEPT energy. Proteins make up our bones, muscle, cells, hormones, antibodies, among others. So as you can see, protein has more important matters to tend to first instead of energy
When we consume a healthy diet that balances all three of these nutrients, you have a well-oiled and properly functioning machine called the human body. We’ll chat about fats and proteins over the next few weeks. Today is all about what carbs do, where we find them, and how to best fit them into your eating lifestyle.
CARBOHYDRATES: BEHIND THE BAD-BOY PERSONA
Carbs give our body it’s main energy source called glucose. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t automatically make us gain weight because we eat them or becausewe ate the “wrong kind”. When we eat carbs, they break down to glucose. Glucose is then delivered throughout the body by red blood cells – kind of like a taxi system. In order for glucose to get into the taxi, it needs a key (or hormone) calledinsulinto unlock the door. Eventually, the taxis get full and there’s no room left to take on anymore passengers (or glucose molecules). Any extra glucose left floating around without a ride will eventually get stored for later use – AKA our fat stores.Long story short, when there’s a large dump of carbohydrates in the body, it uses what it needs and will store the rest for later. The good news is that when we have a mix of nutrients, like fiber, proteins, and fats, it slows this process down so we can get more energy over a longer period of time. Much better than the immediate burst of energy, followed by an even harder crash.
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WHY THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A “NO CARB” DIET
True Confession from a Dietitian: it drives me crazy when someone tells me they eat a “no carb diet”. That’s because there’s no such thing. To be a functioning human, you need a minimum of 130g of carbs a day. So when someone tells me they eat a max of 40g of carbs a day, I tell them flat out it’s impossible or you’d be dead. To keep you alive, happy and functional, these are our main carb source:
- Grains: when we think of “carbs”, this is automatically what people associate as foods with carbs. The breads, rice, pasta and cereal of the world. Guess what? There’s more to carbohydrates beyond “white foods”.
- Starchy Veggies: potatoes, corn, peas, Lima beans, and more fall into this category. These all have nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, which makes them important to have. NEWSFLASH: white potatoes and sweet potatoes both fall into this category. There is NO DIFFERENCE nutritionally or calorically between a white and sweet potato except one has more vitamin A making it orange.
- Fruit: colorful fruit is considered a carb because it contains a type of sugar called “fructose”. It also contains fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more health benefits. So eat fruit. Do not NOT eat fruit because it is technically a carb.
- Beans, Pulses& Legumes: yes, they’re considered protein sources, but these guys also have a carb component. They’re high in fiber, so beans, pulses, and legumes are important foods to fit in.
- Milk & Yogurt: dairy contains a milk sugar called lactose. Yes, the same sugar many people can have trouble breaking down that causes gas. But dairy also has protein, calcium, and vitamin D, making it an important part of a healthy diet.
- Sweets: cookies, baked goods, and candy that have also gone on to give carbs their bad name. Sure, they’re tasty. Any nutritional value? Not so much. Key takeaway: enjoy sparingly.
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FITTING CARBS IN A HEALTHY EATING LIFESTYLE
When it comes to fitting carbs into your life, you want to keep the following in mind: portion sizes, fiber content, color, and what else is in your meal.
- Portion Sizes: this probably plays the biggest factor when it comes to carb intake. As you saw in my taxi example above, too many carbs turn into too much glucose which is more than the body can handle at once and can ultimately store as fat if it can’t be used. Keep your carbs to no more than 1 cup size per meal (about the size of a fist).
- Fiber: fiber fills us up and slows down glucose absorption from food. Look for sources that have at least 4g fiber per serving. Best sources of fiber are veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Color: avoid a brownish/tan plate. Make sure you’re getting nutrients (like FIBER!) from fruits and veggies. At meals, aim for 2 palm sizes of veggies, 1 palm veggies/1 palm fruit, or 1 palm-size worth of fruit (because yes, fruit is a carb and we do have to watch the amount)
Variety: man can’t live on carbs alone. Make sure you’re adding in protein and healthy fat sources at meals. In addition, make sure to change up the carb sources as well. If you’re used to having rice at most meals, consider changing up to a more wholesome grain like farro or freekeh.
Don’t fear those carbs! Just a little education goes a long way when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle in your home with your Significant Other. Start getting energy today from a mix of carb sources. To have energy throughout your day, make sure to add a carb source at every meal and snack.And if you want to create more energy demand for your boy to use those extra carbs instead of storing them, then make sure to fit in some movement daily.
ARE YOU CARB-LOVING OR CARB FEARING?
DO YOU LOOK AT FIBER AMOUNTS INN YOUR FOOD?
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