Learning basic keys to carbohydrates is a great way to learn how you can best help fuel the family through the day in a way that keeps energy and nutrition to a max!

Carbohydrates are plant-based energy – they break down quickly and easily into sugars to provide the body with the fuel it needs to keep up with life.  At least 50-60% of your diet should be comprised of good, healthy carbohydrates.  Many people have falsely come to the belief that “carbs are bad.”  Low-carb diets are a go-to for many looking to lose weight fast but does this leave the person any healthier or energetic in the long-run?

Your body needs carbohydrates but to understand which to enjoy and which to avoid, we simply need to understand a couple of simple distinguishments.

Natural vs. Refined Carbohydrates

Some may think “What’s the difference in the carbs I get from this sandwich and what you get from that soup, or the carbs I get from these fries in contrast to the ones you get from that salad?”  Not all carbs and sugars are created equal. The natural carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans produce a healthful, clean energy while also providing us with vital nutrients and fiber.  Those found in processed foods, white breads and other refined products are often lacking in nutrients and can be flat riddled with toxins. They are also often accompanied by excessive amounts of fat, salt and added sugars which makes them even more harsh on the body.

In other words, a 400 calorie plate of roasted vegetables and brown rice may be just what you need to put that pep back in your step while the same calories from a side of fries can leave you longing for the sofa.  Same goes for eating 400 calories of fruit in contrast to 400 calories worth of candy.  Refined carbohydrates include white breads, refined sugars and are found in the vast majority of processed foods.  Natural carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes/beans.

Excellent choices include whole grains such as farro, barley, buckwheat and steel cut oats in place of store bought breads and pastas.  Opt for fresh or frozen fruits over jammed, canned and packaged sources.

Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates

Now that we’ve settled that you’re only going to eat the good kinds of carbohydrates, which ones are going to give you the most or best fuel?

Complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to break down, providing more sustained energy. This means, you have what it takes to get from breakfast to lunch, and from lunch to dinner without feeling drained.  Good complex carbohydrates to enjoy often are: brown/whole grain rice (not white or “quick” rices), steel cut or thick cut old-fashioned oats, quinoa, barley, farro, any kind of beans, peas and lentils.  If consuming store-bought breads, look for organic 100% whole grain bread (I personally like Ezekiel sprouted grain breads) or an alternative that aligns with your dietary needs and preferences.

Simple carbohydrates are the body’s most easily assimilated fuel source as the body is able to more rapidly metabolize them.  This group is comprised primarily of fruits and vegetables but may also include foods like honey and maple.  These are my go-to’s throughout the day to keep me fueled for a fast-paced day.  While complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, I can generally feel a noticeable difference in my energy level within 15-25 minutes of eating fruits.

To keep the family equipped with a steady, ample supply of energy, pair simple and complex carbohydrates, fats and healthful proteins throughout the day.  Understand the type of fuel you’re counting on and how much/often you need it.

Some may find that too many simple carbohydrates or ones with a higher glycemic index is a bit much to handle, particularly when heading into an office or to school where they’ll be sitting most of the day.  If you need to have a stable fuel source to carry across several hours, you will want to rely more on complex rather than simple carbohydrates.  If you really need this sustained energy to stick with you longer, you may also wish to pair your carbohydrates with a protein or fat, which slows the processes by which carbohydrates are broken down and released into glucose (sugar) in the body.

See?  Easy as pie!

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