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April 26: What’s the Deal with Carbs? Are they good or bad?
Carbohydrates are talked about a lot, and before going any further, it should be noted that you can’t take a black or white, all or nothing approach to carbohydrates - or even nutrition for that matter. It’s a little more complex. People process carbohydrates differently depending on how “fuel efficient” a person’s metabolism is, which results in some people being able to eat more or less in quality and quantity.
When trying to determine what a good carb from a bad one is, look at the sugar content. As a general rule of thumb, sugar content is a good reference point to evaluate the merits of carbohydrate foods. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, the lower the amount of sugar present in a carbohydrate food, the better. Vegetables are an example of a carbohydrate food that has lower amounts of sugar relative to say fruits or grains. Carrots have a higher sugar level than broccoli. Apples have a lower sugar level than grapes.
The next reference point is the quality of the carbohydrate in terms of it being natural vs. processed. Carbohydrates that are processed typically have higher sugar content and are more refined. Foods like breads, pastas, pastries and packaged foods are inferior choices to more natural carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, quinoa, and of course vegetables.
What makes a carbohydrate “good or bad” all depends on metabolism. For example, a person who has a high level of fitness will typically have a better metabolic capacity to process higher levels of sugar and refined carbohydrates (to a point), relative to someone who is sedentary or deconditioned. Genetic factors play a role in carbohydrate metabolism as well and are individual. The environment also plays a role in that the more environmental stressors (physical, chemical, mental and emotional) you’re exposed to, the more effective carbohydrate intake becomes in helping mitigate those stressors.
One of the most valuable metrics is to know the amount of carbohydrates you need to benefit your body, and the amount you can have before it starts to negatively affect you. This requires a little time and self-study but once you get a handle on it, you will have added a level of metabolic control that make things easier. Most people enjoy eating carbohydrate foods. It’s normal and ok, but not knowing your own personal limits is risky business. Ideally you want to be able to eat as many carbohydrates as possible while maintaining your health, a healthy body weight and a healthy level of body fat.
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