Carbs have been vilified as the culprit behind America's obesity epidemic over the last decade. If you've embarked on a trendy low-carb diet (like Paleo or keto), then you know the anguish of staring at a beautiful basket of French fries and being forced to resist, lest you send yourself into a downward spiral of self-hatred and regret. How dare you ruin your temple of a body with a delicious-but-evil carbohydrate!
Actually, it's pretty silly to deprive yourself of this important food group. For starters, they're one of only three macronutrients (the others being protein and fat), which means cutting carbs out throws your whole balanced diet out of whack. And your body needs them to, you know, function.
"Ninety percent of the brain's fuel is glucose, so we need carbs in order to not only think straight, but to perform," Jim White, registered dietitian and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, says. "Also, carbohydrates give us energy. They provide glucose and we [burn] glycogen, which is our tank for fuel in the body."
Not only do carbs give you energy for better workouts; done right, eating carbohydrates can even be part of a well-rounded weight-loss plan. Here's how:
The more complex the better
One of the biggest reasons people demonize carbs is because they're such a broad food group. Junk food like chips and donuts fall under the carb macro group, but so do good-for-you foods like quinoa and oatmeal. To really get a grasp on which carbs to eat, White breaks them down into three tiers.
"The complex carbohydrates, the ones with a lot of fiber, are going to be the best," he explains. "They add fiber, they add antioxidants, they're slow-digesting, low-glycemic." These include brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans, fruit, and even some vegetables, and they're the best carbs to choose. The second tier includes common "white" foods such as white rice, white pasta, white bread, white potatoes, and also corn, which White isn't opposed to in moderation. He recommends if you choose these carbs, pair them with a more complex carbohydrate, so a mix of whole-wheat pasta and white pasta is better than white pasta alone.
The third tier (unfortunately) would be the simple sugars and the processed refined carbs that are the tastiest, but should be eaten sparingly. "The ones you really want to watch would be things like donuts, cookies, chips, that have little nutritional value," he says. "That's what [is] going to cause some of your weight gain."