Eats,  Life,  Nutrition

What Carbohydrates Actually Are; And Why You Should Eat Them

I used to have a really hard time not budding into conversations I would overhear centered in diet-culture. I mean a really hard time. This is probably partially because I am sensitive to “extreme” ways of eating because of my past, but it also just bothers me when I hear people villainizing certain foods in the name of “health”. Are there some conditions that require certain foods to be off limits? Yes, of course. But I really feel that a lot of the time food isn’t the issue. It’s the behaviors, emotions, habits, and feelings surrounding the food that might need to be addressed. I fully believe that you have the right to choose the way to nourish your body, even if that means avoiding a certain food(s) for a medical reason, or to feel better or for personal beliefs. But please remember that what works for you may not work for someone else, and that cutting out foods in order to micromanage your body size is not sustainable or enjoyable, and does not make you more valuable. 

I want to be supportive of everyone in their food journey, because we live in society that makes food choices hard. Our culture has given food way to much power, and when I see people grasping at straws in the same way I did, it kills me that I can’t just fix it for them with a snap of my fingers. I usually just change the subject of the conversation because I have learned that most of the time people aren’t very receptive to opinions (or facts) that they do not ask for. Even when there are good intentions behind them. I struggle a lot with trying to put people on the fast track to Intuitive Eating because I know how it feels to be chained down by diet culture, but there is no fast track. I am slowly learning that everyone is different and works at their own pace, and there may even be some people who don’t resonate with Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size, and I have to accept that. You do you.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t use my knowledge to educate and empower people to make informed decisions. My main goal when it comes to nutrition is to educate with science-based information to then allow people to advocate for themselves and their choices. That’s why I started Joyfueled. Because word-vomiting my nutrition philosophy all over non-receptive people everyday is discouraging, exhausting, and not helpful. So I plant seeds when I can in life, and maybe one day I will be able to run my own practice and influence my way. But for right now, you guys get the good stuff, so thanks for reading <3

Kick-starting my metabolism and replenishing from my fast (sleep) with a bowl of hot CARBS

So with out further ado- let’s talk about one of the most common (and damaging) current nutrition trends. Carbohydrates. Carbs are just a macronutrient. They aren’t evil nor do they belong on a pedestal. Carbs are just carbs. They aren’t going to make you “fat” and they will not cause insulin resistance/diabetes, it is way more complicated than that. Sure there are some cases where carbohydrates need to be monitored (diabetes), but even a diabetic still needs to eat adequate carbohydrates.

Let’s get science-y for a second. Our body can only digest 3 different things (macronutrients) to use as fuel; carbohydrates, dietary fat, and protein. Meaning, these are the only 3 things we get calories (energy) from. (We do not get calories from micronutrients like; sodium, vitamin B, potassium, calcium, etc.) Carbohydrates are very important for many reasons, the main one being that they are our body’s preferred source of fuel. Yes, read that again. Our body prefers carbohydrates for fuel over fat and protein, and that is because carbs are easiest to break down and use. When we eat carbohydrate containing foods, they break down in our body into something called glucose, that then goes through the TCA (citric acid cycle) to become ATP (aka our body’s energy source). This is a process that we are biologically designed for, it is how our body uses carbs for fuel. It is a good thing. Carbs are a good thing. Both fat and protein actually go through different processes in our bodies, and are used different ways. Macronutrients really aren’t supposed to be exchangeable inside the body.

So what foods have carbohydrates in them? Many people think of bread, pasta, and potatoes when they think of carbs. And they are right, but there is so much more. Carbs are actually found in most foods, especially; grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, beans, lentils, dairy, candy, baked goods, dressings, sauces, pastas, juice, bread, popcorn, tortillas, dips, spreads, and probably so many other things I’m forgetting. My point is- that’s a long list, so it makes sense that our bodies are meant to eat and use carbohydrates. Why would all of these foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables have carbohydrates in them if our body didn’t need them? I always hear people talking about how carbs are so “bad” for us and blah blah blah, and I could talk and talk and talk about why that’s not true for ages, but I don’t want to bore you. In short- it is recommended that 45-65% of our energy should come from carbs. We need carbs.

The best ciabatta bread with a purple cabernet and jalepeno cheddar butter as part of our anniversary dinner a few weeks ago

Okay, so we need carbs. But what about all of this “good” carb “bad” carb buzz going around? 

Ahhh yes the good and bad carbs. First of all, one thing I would like to point out right away is that I do not believe that morality can be associated with food. Therefore, there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” carbohydrate, or any other food for that matter. What that statement though is referring to is simple and complex carbohydrates, and there is a time and place for both of these.

Simple carbohydrates are basically foods that are easily digestible because they lack fiber (and maybe protein and fat too), and will therefore elevate blood sugar a little faster (aka they have a higher glycemic index). These are usually what people refer to as “bad” carbs because they are usually more palatable foods like; fruit snacks, candy, refined breads and juice. Complex carbohydrates are foods that have more fiber in them, causing the digestion of the food to be slower or more “complex. These foods will rise blood sugar at a slower rate and help it to remain consistent longer, which will help create lasting energy and focus. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates are things like brown rice, sweet potatoes (or white), beans and legumes, whole grain breads, etc. Neither of these types of carbohydrates are bad, and there are appropriate times for both of them.

For example, if it’s 6pm and you are STARVING (like that dizzy, shaky, nauseous feeling you get when your super hungry) but you know that you will be eating dinner in an hour so you don’t want to ruin your appetite…bust out those pretzels, fruit snacks, or gummy bears and eat a few! These are examples of quick carbohydrates and they will help your blood sugar spike up so you’re not miserable for the next hour, but you still arrive to dinner hungry and ready for food. This is the whole point of putting bread on the table or having appetizers before your meal. Being overly hungry sucks, and denying your body food when it’s asking will only set you up for overeating later on. In my experience, allowing myself a small handful of pretzels or a roll from the bread basket during times like these has helped me be more in-tune with my hunger during the meal and not over stuff myself because I arrived too hungry.

Banana Carrot Oat muffins I made last weekend. Recipe coming soon!

So what about complex carbs? Well because these are the food sources that are going to give us lasting energy, I recommend adding some form of complex carbohydrates into most of your meals and snacks. I personally choose complex carbs most often because there combination of lasting energy and fiber is what makes me feel my best. Not only are complex carbs going to help promote lasting energy, but they also have lots of fiber in them as well, which is always a plus. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends making half of the grains you eat whole, so and easy way to add more complex carbohydrates into your day is switching some of your basic grain options (like rice and pasta) to whole grain versions. Also choosing whole grain crackers, popcorn, cereals, breads, and lots of whole fruits and veggies most often.

Another thing that I want to briefly mention again is that carbs are not the end all be all. We need all 3 macronutrients, so pairing your food choices to create an overall balance is when your going to get the best bang for your buck. Part of the reason why carbs have been vilianized is because alone, they do not provide very much satiation. Carbs are great for providing energy, but we still need that protein and fat accompanied along with it to help keep us full. So pairing your carbohydrate source, no matter what it is, along with a protein and/or fat will help not only keep you fuller longer, but also provide a variety of nutrients. Think apples and peanut butter, crackers and cheese, or veggies and hummus.

Sometimes I think our culture tends to focus in on certain foods/ nutrients, when really nutrition is all is about the big picture. Skimping on carbs (or really any nutrient) in an effort to lose a little weight, or in the name of “health” will likely backfire. We do not give our bodies enough credit, when it senses restriction or deprivation it will signal our primal drive to eat to eventually take over. It’s a survival mechanism, it’s not because we are addicted to any certain food. Carbs are not the enemy. Carbohydrates provide our body with a significant amount of fuel, and they are needed in all lifestyles. So please, go ahead and enjoy that delicious bakery blueberry muffin, chewy brown rice in your burrito, crunchy crackers with your lunch, or soft cookie your grandma baked. Nourish yourself well with all different sorts of foods that work for your body, and please… don’t be afraid to carbs.


As always! Send any questions, comments, stories, or blog ideas to And have a GREAT weekend <3


Comments Off on What Carbohydrates Actually Are; And Why You Should Eat Them
%d bloggers like this: