Often considered a dirty word in dieting circles, some believe that cutting out carbohydrates is the key to quick weight loss, but your body does require a certain amount of carbs to function well on a daily basis.
All carbs are not created equal, and they don’t have to blow your healthy eating plans out of the water.
What IS a carb?
By its simplest definition, carbohydrates are a group of organic compounds in food that provide energy, falling into one of three main categories:
Sugar creates a burst of energy by raising your blood sugar (glucose) level after consumption. Carbohydrates occur naturally in some foods like fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Refined sugar is often added to sweeten many processed items like cereals, baked goods, candy and sodas. Because they usually lack significant nutritional value, it’s advisable to avoid or limit table sugar and minimize your daily intake of foods with added sugars.
Like sugar, starch is found naturally in potatoes, corn, beans and whole grains, but also in processed foods made with refined flour such as bread, cake and pasta.
A plant-based building block of many vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes, fiber is a carbohydrate that passes through the body undigested, helping to keep your digestive system running effectively. For this reason, it is often touted as a reliable remedy for treating and preventing constipation.
Three Chicago chefs serve up their favorite potato recipes, from sweet frites to au gratin and even a potato salad.
Simple vs. complex carbs
As if that’s not enough to keep straight, carbs also break down into simple and complex categories. Simple carbohydrates in fruit, baked treats and desserts tend to digest quickly, bringing on the “sugar rush” feeling that hits shortly after you eat a candy bar. Complex carbohydrates found in high-fiber and starchy foods take longer for the body to process, providing a slow and steady release of energy over a more extended period of time.
Too much of a good thing?
Many foods contain more than one form of carbohydrate. For the healthiest carb options, try to select unprocessed produce and grains in as close to their natural forms as possible. The less processed the item, the better it is for you. Nutritional labels provide total carbohydrate and fiber content, and after a 2020 update by the FDA, they now also let you know if the food you’re eating contains added sugars on top of the total sugars.
Because carbs can be high in calories, it’s important to pay attention to your intake, especially when it comes to processed foods. If you’re trying to lose weight, reducing your intake of items that are high in added sugars and refined flour can make an impact. Does this mean you can never have another cookie? Of course not! Just try to make sure that the majority of carbs you eat are naturally occurring instead of the processed variety.
The optimal amount of carbs your body needs on a daily basis depends on your own individual health profile. Talk to your doctor to set a reasonable goal.