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Macros 101: CARBS

Macronutrients are a group of nutrients that provide your body with energy and the components it needs to maintain its structure and functions.

Macronutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. They’re needed in relatively larger amounts than other nutrients, hence the term “macro.” Although there are recommended ranges for macronutrient intake, your needs vary based on your personal circumstances.

What is a carb?

Carbs (or carbohydrates) are a macronutrient found in the foods we eat. They include fibre, starches and sugars and are often described as either simple or complex.

Simple Carbs

The simple carbs can be further broken down into two groups, refined and natural. Regardless of the type, simple carbs are the ones that cause an immediate spike in blood sugar see more on blood sugar here in 'How to control the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster' and here for part 2.

As we have already talked about, the spike in blood sugar always leads to the crash afterwards which results in fatigue and sluggishness. The crash is because simple carbs are processed by the body very quickly. Examples include sweets, soda, table sugar.

Simple carbs lack nutrient value. Their sole purpose is, if we’re being honest, to add sweetness. This isn’t always a bad thing, when eaten in moderation. But simple carbs have been shown to increase weight gain and contribute to a handful of health conditions.

How do you know it’s a simple carb?

Because it is often the one that had to be added to a food, rather than occurring naturally in a food. You can find sugar in almost everything you consume, so if you look at a food label, things to watch out for include corn syrup and fructose, maltose, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, among others.

Complex Carbs

Complex carbs are the ones that are often described as the “good” carbs. Complex carbs include things like vegetables and healthy grains (think quinoa, corn, oats and barley). These are processed by the body slower than simple carbs and release the energy you get from them over a longer period of time (think less spike, less crash).

Complex carbs can also be broken down into two sub-categories, starch and fiber. Foods that are high in starch (like potatoes, corn, pasta, breads and cereals) contain the additional benefit of fibre, and often have some nutrient value.

Foods that are high in fibre (soluble and insoluble) include beans, oats, apples, citrus fruits, nuts, beans and vegetables. Foods that are high in starch include whole wheat bread, peas, rice and potatoes.

Why Carbs are Important

We talked about the relationship between glucose and body function here in 'How to control the Blood Sugar Rollercoaster' and its importance as the fuel our body needs for the organs and brain to work. But like all things, consuming carbs should be moderated, and consideration given to the type of carbs consumed (simple versus complex).

The Benefit of Carbs

Our body needs carbohydrates to do its work. It needs the fiber to help with digestion and bowel health and to decrease cholesterol and normalize the processing of glucose (again, less spike and less crash). Complex carbs have also been shown to assist in weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease and digestive system cancers.

More on... Why carbs are Important

In addition to the health benefits of carbs, we need to remember that carbs constitute our source of energy. The glucose that helps the system run properly is derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates in our body.

We want to always be looking for the best possible source of that energy, like unprocessed (vegetables, fruits and beans) or minimally processed (whole grains). We can always still eat simple carbs in moderation (white bread, pastries, and highly processed foods) but remember that these can contribute to weight gain and promote diabetes and heart disease. Simple carbs also provide very little if any nutrient value.

So the next time you’re reaching for something to eat, keep in mind what you’ve learned about the quality of the carbohydrates you’re consuming. It will help you to make healthier choices about your source of energy!


A Complete Guide to Complex Carbohydrates. Livestrong:

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