As a Health Coach I get these questions all the time: Does eating carbs cause weight gain? And what the heck is the difference between “good” and “bad” carbs?
If you bear with me, I will try to explain this as simple as possible.
Carbohydrates (aka carbs) are naturally occurring sugars, starches and fiber in food. All carbs are made up of sugar molecules. Sugar molecules linked together form starches and fiber.
In the body, starches and sugars are broken down in the digestive system to glucose (blood sugar), which is the fuel that provides the body with energy.
Fiber is a form of carb that is not broken-down during digestion. It passes through the stomach, small intestine, colon and out of the body.
We get 2 types: complex carbs (starches and fiber) and simple carbs (sugar that occurs in fruit, veggies, milk and sugar (including honey).
So what are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs?
Good carbs are foods that contain high fiber, including vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, brown rice and whole grains (eg barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, brown and wild rice and rye). Deﬁnition of whole grain means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ and endosperm – must be present. Fiber promotes a healthy digestive system by keeping the bowels moving. It helps prevent obesity and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes by slowing down digestion and keeping you full longer.
Bad carbs refer to foods that contain refined carbs with low fiber and are found in white bread, cakes, cookies and other baked goods made with white flour and sugar.
How many carbohydrates does a person need in a day?
Instead of counting carbs, as a Health coach I recommend that half of your plate should be filled with fruit and veggies (potatoes doesn’t count…sorry), a quarter with whole grains and a quarter with protein (meat, fish, beans or nuts).
Does eating carbohydrates cause weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight?
It depends…eating too many calories from any type of food will cause weight gain. But foods with low fiber content often contain a lot of calories without any nutrients. They are metabolized very quickly into glucose. The sudden spike in the blood glucose level triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage. Which means it is easier to gain weight.
The ‘ah ha’ factor here is that a diet that includes a moderate amount of healthy carbs like whole grain products, fruit and veggies is the best diet for long-term weight management and health. It is also the easiest kind of diet to follow.
Now you know what the difference is between good and bad carbs, I want to take this a bit further and show you where the bad carbs lurk their way into your kitchen, without you even realizing.
Low-fat foods are one of the most surprising sources of refined carbs, as food manufacturers often have to add sugar when they remove fat to improve flavour and texture. For that reason, research has found that low-fat products tend to have more sugar than their full-fat counterparts. Considering that healthy fat actually has a beneficial impact on blood sugar response, we suggest reaching for a full-fat product whenever possible.
While yogurt and fruit separately are amazing, most fruit-flavoured yogurts contain about 24g of sugar per 200g (that is 6 teaspoons, which is the recommended daily allowance for an adult woman). Tip: opt for Greek/Plain yogurt and add your own fruit.
Granola, energy and protein bars
Marketed as a healthy on-the-go option for adults and kids, most commercial bars are designed for athletes, not a 3 pm snack at your desk. A lot of the most popular options on the market clock in at as much as 22g of added sugar, there you have just consumed your daily sugar allowance in just 1 bar…not cool.
Make your own bars at home with a combination of nuts, whole rolled oats, nut butter and dates.
When you think of fried chicken, you probably aren’t thinking as much about the carbs as you about the fat, but that crispy crust is likely not whole grain. Skip the take-out and whip up your own chicken nuggets or fish strips using whole grain oats, whole grain flour or almond flour. Shallow fry them in Macadamia oil instead of Sunflower or Canola oil.
Smoothies have a lot of great nutrition potential, but a lot of commercial smoothies are packed with sugar. Thanks to a combination of fruit juice and sweetened frozen yogurt, some regular sized fruit-based smoothies clock in at 50–65g of sugar. Yikes!
By making your own, you know exactly what is in them and can control your sugar intake. All the recipes on my blog contains only natural sugars from fruit and at least 1 superfood (for that extra boost), give them a try and let me know how they made you feel.
Sauces, gravies and salad dressings
Most gravies and sauces are thickened with white flour or corn starch. You can thicken sauces yourself using whole wheat flour or pureed vegetables (like cauliflower), and use naturally fruity vinegar like apple cider vinegar in dressings to avoid the need for extra sugar.
Here are a few suggestions of how to slowly start incorporating more of those good carbs into your meals:
Start by swapping out refined grains with whole grains. Start small by introducing quinoa (my favourite grain of all times) to your family, did you know that quinoa’s vitamins, minerals and fibre is greater than any other grain and its gluten-free and so versatile!
Experimenting with fibre-rich vegetables like zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, carrots, broccoli and sweet potato to help stretch your starch.
As for sugars, explore using fruit to sweeten snacks and desserts instead of relying on syrups or sweeteners. Honey is better than refined sugar as it contains some health benefits but also use sparingly as it can still spike up your blood sugar.
Ripe bananas can replace a lot of the sugar in baked muffins or bread and stewed berries set with chia seeds make an amazing no-added-sugar jam.
Final note: by consciously dividing carbs into good carbs and bad carbs can create a mental block against them, which is not what we want, we rather want a mindset of eating unrefined whole grain, high fiber foods that nourishes our bodies and give us the energy we need without unpleasant blood sugar spikes.
Happy experimenting and let me know what have worked for you.