This post will answer all your questions about carbs! You’ll learn what they are, the importance of carbs, and how to incorporate them into a healthy diet. In partnership with Success Rice!
The Importance of Carbs: Why Your Body Needs Them
We all know the rumors about carbs – but what is actually true? Maybe you’ve been on a low-carb diet before (been there). Maybe you’ve heard someone touting the benefits of one of the many low-carb diets (been there, too). Let’s cut through that noise and get to the real science, shall we?
Today I am really excited to be talking all about CARBS – what they are, types of carbs, and the importance of carbs in a healthy diet. This post is in partnership with Success Rice, makers of carbohydrate-rich Boil-in-Bag rice and quinoa! My pantry is not complete without a few boxes of Success Rice because they really come in handy for quick and healthy meals.
Okay, onto our lesson about the importance of carbs!
What exactly are carbs?
Carbohydrates are sugar, fiber, and starch molecules in food. Let’s dive into those three types of carbohydrates:
- Sugars. Fruit and milk naturally contain sugar molecules, but added sugars like white sugar, maple syrup, and corn syrup also contain sugar molecules.
- Fiber. The two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – are found in foods like fruit, oats, beans, vegetables, whole grains (like Success Boil-in-Bag Rice & Quinoa products), and basically any other plant food.
- Starch. Starch can be found in foods like potatoes, corn, wheat products, beans, and whole grains (like Success Boil-in-Bag Rice & Quinoa products).
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body, especially the brain. When we eat carbohydrates (on their own or in a meal), our bodies break the carbs down to glucose, which enters the blood. Thus, our blood glucose is highest after eating. Then, an increase in insulin allows the glucose to enter our cells. This gives us energy and keeps our cellular functions going.
I make sure to incorporate carbs, along with fat and protein, into every meal. One way I do that is by using Success Boil-in-Bag products because they are so quick to make. Success products create a perfect blank canvas for a delicious meal. Here are my favorite recipes to make with Success products:
- Quinoa Fried Rice (using Success Boil-in-Bag Quinoa)
- Vegan Poke Bowl (using Success Boil-in-Bag Jasmine Rice or Brown Rice)
- Cajun-Style Vegan Red Beans and Rice (using Success Boil-in-Bag White Rice)
Types of Carbs
We usually divide carbs into two categories: simple and complex.
First, simple carbs are carbs that are very easily digestible. These foods will give you an instant burst of energy, due to the quick blood sugar spike, because we break down the sugars very quickly. Think white flour products like pretzels, cookies, and white pasta, sugary desserts, and sugar-sweetened drinks.
However, simple carbs are also found in fruit and milk, but these foods naturally contain fiber (in the case of fruit) or fat (in the case of milk) plus vitamins and minerals.
Next, complex carbs do not spike blood sugar as high or as quickly as simple carbs. Complex carbs are made up of many chains of carbohydrates. Thus, we have to expend more energy to digest them.. Plus, sources of complex carbs also contain fiber, which slows the release of glucose into the blood. Examples of complex carbs are brown rice, quinoa, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
We want the majority of our carbs to come from complex carbs, but we can also enjoy simple carbs (especially fruit!). One way to slow the blood sugar spike that comes with simple carbs is to pair them with a fat, protein, and/or fiber source. For example, pairing an apple with peanut butter, or pairing white rice (like Success Boil-in-Bag White Rice) with olive oil and beans.
What are Refined Carbs?
Refined carbs are similar to simple carbs. However, carbs do not contain much fiber or many nutrients like protein, vitamins, or minerals. Refined carbs are white flour products, white pasta, white rice, and some breakfast cereals.
However, refined carbs are different from simple carbs because while fruit is a simple carb, it is not a refined carb.
Surely we will all eat simple and refined carbs occasionally – and that’s totally okay! Basically, we want to aim for eating mostly complex carbs and pairing simple and refined carbs with fat, protein, and/or fiber source.
What does my body use for fuel if I am not getting enough carbohydrates?
If we’re talking about the importance of carbs, we have to talk about what happens when we don’t eat them. When we don’t eat enough carbs for an extended period of time, our bodies have to find another fuel source other than glucose. Consequently, our bodies produce increased amounts of ketone bodies from fatty acids. This is the basis for the popular (but not evidence-based) ketogenic diet.
Moreover, ketone bodies are very acidic, so too many in the blood could lead to a severe condition called ketoacidosis.
However, one clinical use of the ketogenic diet has been in children with durg-resistant epilepsy. We need more research to recommend the ketogenic diet to the average person or for certain medical conditions.
Overall, using ketone bodies as fuel is our body’s emergency response, not its preferred state. Diets that rely on ketones to provide fuel are low in nutritious carbs like whole grains, beans, and fruit, and often high in saturated fat foods like meat, butter, and coconut oil.
The Importance of Carbs in a Healthy Diet
Overall, carbs provide our bodies energy for daily activities and biological processes. Foods rich in carbs can also provide us with fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Furthermore, eating patterns like the Mediterannean Diet, a largely plant-based eating pattern, are rich with carbohydrate foods like fruit, whole grains, and starchy foods. This eating pattern may lead to lower inflammation and reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease.1 Also, whole grain consumption itself has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, along with better digestive health. 2
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbs make up 45-65% of our daily calories.3 It also recommends that at least half of our carbs should come from whole grain sources like brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat products, and oats.
Thanks to Success Rice for sponsoring this post! I love working with brands whose products I really love and would honestly recommend. Thank you for your support!