Carbs…Sweet, sweet (and savory) carbs. They’re amazing. They make us smile. They give us energy. They make us fat. WAIT. That last part isn’t true. At all. Carbohydrates are simply a macronutrient like protein that contain four calories per gram. This does not mean that they will cause you to gain weight. That is such an outdated way of thinking; I know you’re better than to fall into that trap. But why is it that people think carbs make us fat? And why do they give us energy? We’r going to dive into these questions (and more) below.
As previously stated, they are a macronutrient that contain four calories per gram. Let’s start talking about carbs by discussing its functions and why it’s important to get carbs in your diet.
It’s pretty simple what carbs do from a basic level. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of fuel. If you’ve ever had a meal with a lot of potatoes, pasta, rice, etc., you may have noticed that you feel energized and ready to go move and be active. Unless you’re snacking on some potato chips watching tv, then maybe not…move your butt.
Carbohydrates are so important that your brain relies strictly on glucose to fuel itself. If you’ve ever gone a long time without carbs, you begin to get tired, groggy, your mind gets fuzzy. Your body needs glucose which comes primarily from carbs. It is true that your body can utilize fats and protein to synthesize glucose, but these processes require many more steps and more energy (calories). If you’re exercising, you want to conserve that energy for the activity rather than the conversion of fat/protein to glucose.
As exercise becomes more intense, carbohydrates become the preferred energy source, and so are nearly essential for hard workouts. If you’re not training hard, this doesn’t mean you show go low-carb. Carbohydrates are still going to power your brain, and body so you don’t get fatigued from every day tasks.
Additionally, carbs spare protein as a source of energy. Why is this important? Well, protein has a lot of other super important jobs to do, like fighting illnesses, strengthening and increasing the size of muscles, etc. If protein has to break down for energy, it can’t perform these other important functions, and so muscles could lose size and strength, you could get sicker, and a host of other issues can occur if you’re not fueling with carbohydrates and relying on protein instead. Just don’t skip the carbz plz.
Do Carbs Make You Fat?
Hell to the naw! Carbs are great and give you the energy to expend that energy. If anything, they help you from getting fat because you can be more active when you eat carbs.
The reason why people think carbs make you fat is because of their palatability. Carbs taste amazing! And you feel so good when eating them. Carbs, for most of us, put a big ol’ smile on our faces. With that in mind, wouldn’t you want to eat more of them?? Exactly! So you do. You continue eating and eating and eating until your stomach feels like it’s about to explode.
It’s very easy to overeat on carbohydrates. Which means it’s very easy to accumulate a lot of calories when eating carbs. Typically, if you’re consistently overeating carbs, over time, you will gain weight simply because the amount of calories you’re consuming are surpassing the amount of calories you’re using for energy. That’s why you gain weight. CARBS ARE NOT EVIL AND OUT TO MAKE YOU FAT. I know you’re smart enough to not fall into that trap of thinking :).
Let’s move on to what carbs are actually made of so we can understand why and how there are different types of carbs (and so you can sound smart to your friends when you start talking about glucose and monosaccharides).
What Are Carbs Made Of?
Carbohydrates are composed of, at the most basic level, monosaccharides (mono=one, saccharide=sugar). This is one unit of sugar. There are also disaccharides (di=two), which are two units (or molecules) of sugar joined together. Next, there are oligosaccharides (oligo=few), which are 3-10 units of sugar connected. Finally, there are polysaccharides (poly=many). These are 10+ units of sugar joined together, and can range of to the thousands joined together to create different types of carbohydrate.
Monosaccharides, and thus, all sugars, are created by either an individual molecule of sugar, or bonding of different types. Primarily, there is glucose (most abundant), fructose, and galactose. These molecules combine to create chains of carbohydrates that differ with each combination.
So, if you think about it, you can’t ever cut sugar out of your diet since carbs are made of sugar (mwahahahaha). But seriously, sugar doesn’t make you fat. I’ll make a post about that eventually because it’s an unnecessary fear.
One quick tip: There are sometimes myths about sugars known as Maltose and Sucrose being especially bad for you and should be avoided however; both of those sugars are disaccharides, meaning two molecules of sugar joined together. That’s it. There’s nothing to fear when you see them on the labels of food.
Basically, there are two types of carbs, simple and complex. Simple carbs are the mono- and disaccharides. In terms of food, they are your sweets, juices, treats, fruits, etc. THAT GOOD STUFF.
Complex carbs are the longer chains of sugar molecules (oligo- and polysaccharides). Given that they’re longer chains and the way the body breaks these structures down, they take a longer time to digest and, thus, make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Some complex carb sources include brown rice, any whole grain products, oatmeal, and legumes (beans, peas, etc.).
These foods contain a special carbohydrate known as fiber. I will be making a post about this because it’s so amazing and don’t want to make this post all about fiber. What you need to know is that it helps you stay fuller for longer, so it can fight desires of snacking and overeating. Fiber also feeds your gut bacteria therefore, improving digestive and gut health. Lastly, it can help lower your cholesterol. DON’T SKIP THE FIBER.
How Much Of My Diet Should Come From Carbs?
Glad you asked! There is a recommended range. Most registered dietitians and nutrition professionals will recommend somewhere between 45-65% of your total daily calories. As the amount of physical activity and intensity increases, that recommendation would move closer to the higher portion of the range. Vice versa for less activity since your body doesn’t need as much energy.
It’s totally fine to bounce around that range and find what works for you. If you prefer 65%, just ensure that you’re getting adequate protein and fat still. If you prefer the lower end, please ensure your fiber intake is adequate.
How much fiber you ask? Well, it’s suggested atleast 25g for women and 38g for men per day. Vegetables contain a lot of fiber as do legumes, whole grain products, and fruit. Include these in your diet often, and you shouldn’t have a problem meeting those numbers!
Dang. We covered a lot here. But this information shouldn’t be too hard to digest (get it?). If you do have more questions about carbs, or want to share how to ball out on carbs (recipes), feel free to share them with me below :). Thanks for reading!
1The Science of Nutrition by Janice Thompson, Melinda Moore, Linda Vaughn