Bread, pasta, rice! Ask someone to list a few carbs and those would be the usual contenders. They’re right of course, but the carb rabbit-hole goes a lot deeper than that.

If you’ve ever tried to cut down on your carbs, you’ve probably encountered the torture that is walking down the isles of your favorite grocery store which is jam-packed with delicious pastries, breads, cookies and cakes.

To make matters worse, they’re almost always on sale. Try to resist something like this when it’s on sale – I dare ya!

Don’t Avoid Carbs (They Love You)

Carbs often get a bad rap in the fitness world, but are they actually all that bad? Not all of them! The secret is making sure you fill up on the good ones.

People on low-carb diets are often pretty easy to spot: low energy and cranky. But, this usually isn’t because it’s low-carb – it’s because they’re just not getting enough calories – hangry anyone?

Look, if you’re avoiding carbs like the plague, but you’ve been walking around with headaches, cravings and mood swings then please go do yourself a favor and take a bite out of a nice juicy apple.

Sometimes you’ve just got to give your body what it needs: carbs!

Remember, rice, bread and pasta are not the only carbs in town. Fruits are carbs too. In fact, the reason why it’s so tough to avoid them is because they’re everywhere! And they come in many shapes, sizes and flavors.

Bad Carbs

All this talk about carbs can be confusing: which ones should you be eating and why? We all know carbohydrates are delicious, make you feel good and give you energy. But, too many can contribute to weight gain and possibly other health issues.

For example, this study found a high carb diet (versus a high fat diet) leads to a greater risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Okay, so what are some of these bad carbs you should probably avoid:

  • Pop
  • Candy
  • Artificial Syrups
  • Cakes
  • Sugar
  • White rice, white bread and white pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Pastries and desserts

It’s okay to indulge in these simple carbs once in a while, but don’t use them as your main source of carbohydrates. Moderation is key!

Good Carbs

The carbs you want to eat are complex carbohydrates. They are considered “good” because the body takes longer to break down the sugars which means they tend to have a lower glycemic load.

The slower sugar release also means that you’ll have more energy throughout the day.

Some other characteristics of good carbs are they are:

High in fiber: keeps you fuller longer.

High in nutrients: natural minerals, vitamins enzymes and phytonutrients to prevent chronic disease.

Low energy-density: in other words, you can eat more of them, feel fuller and still lose weight.

Complex / Good carbs to keep in your diet:

  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole fruits
  • Whole vegetables

Glycemic Load Breakdown

A bit of a tounge-twister! When people talk about carbohydrates you will rarely hear the term glycemic index being thrown around. That’s because it’s just so much easier to talk about “good” and “bad” carbs.

However it’s not a bad idea to know the basics about the glycemic index (GI). It measures how carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose (i.e. the sugar in the blood).

Foods are ranked by how they compare to a reference food – either glucose or white bread. A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low GI.

Meal planning by GI involves choosing foods that have a low or medium GI. If you eat a food with a high GI, you can combine it with low GI foods to help balance the meal.

You may be wondering why you don’t see any meats or fats on this list.

Well, it’s simple: meats and fats don’t have a GI because they do not contain carbohydrates.

Here’s a list of some foods and their GIs to get you started:

High GI (70 or more)

  • White bread or bagel
  • Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal
  • Short grain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix
  • Russet potato, pumpkin
  • Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers
  • Melons and pineapple

Medium GI (56-69)

  • Whole wheat, rye and pita bread
  • Quick oats
  • Brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous

Low GI Foods (55 or less)

  • 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
  • Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli
  • Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar
  • Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
  • Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots

If you are still trying to avoid all carbs like the plague, don’t. Just be a little more picky about the carbs you do choose to eat. The body needs the nutrients and minerals that complex carbohydrates provide them.

If you do cut your carbs, cut the bad ones, not the good ones and remember to get enough calories in your diet to allow you to function like a happy, healthy human being!

And remember: no one’s perfect, so if you do indulge in something delicious and sugary, just make sure you do it in moderation!

Teena Cathey

Teena Cathey is a certified personal trainer who focuses on endurance and energy training. She runs two group fitness boot camp classes called Go Harder in Detroit, MI. Teena is author of the free ebook, How to Find The Right Personal Trainer. When not with clients Teena enjoys painting, playing basketball or with her dog Mister. She’s very social, follow her on... Read More

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