Simple carb. Complex carb. Starchy carb. Low carb. High carb. No carb. With so many names and phrases these days, how do we even navigate the carbohydrate minefield? We believe that carbohydrates, like all macronutrients, are best determined on an individual basis. We all have differing requirements for carbs, fats and proteins based on our age, sex, activity level, hormonal balance, tolerance, insulin sensitivity and much more.
Of course, the first question has to be: What are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibres found in grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy products and most processed foods. Carbohydrates are present in these foods in varying amounts and in two different forms, simple and complex carbohydrates. Generally speaking, simple carbs are digested and absorbed more quickly than their complex counterparts. For example, fruit juice would be a simple carbohydrate and a sweet potato would be a complex one. Both of these foods will illicit a very different response by our blood sugar and as a result a different cascade of hormones by our body in relation to how these are stored or used for fuel.
Now that we know what a carbohydrate is, why do they matter? Carbs are an easy fuel source for our body because all carbs are essentially broken down to sugar. Sugar is a fast fuel source and the first one accessed when our body needs energy when given the choice between carbs and stored fat. If we think about carbohydrates as the kindling on a fire and fat as the big logs, we know that the kindling will burn first and quicker but only provides a small burst of heat. The logs take a little longer to get going but once they do, they provide a long slow, consistent burn. Our bodies are the same, if we are jacked up on carbohydrates all the time (especially simple ones), our body will use them for energy first because they are easy, like kindling. However just like the kindling, they burn out fast and then our body relies on more and more carbs to be added to use for consistent fuel. This generally results in blood sugar peaks and crashes in people and why people get 'hangry' and feel the need to eat every 2-3 hours. The good news? We can optimise our carbohydrate levels so our body will tap into our fat stores for long-burning consistent fuel. Once we teach our body how to effectively use those bigger logs, you may find that blood your sugar regulation is better and you're not constantly needing to snack. Obviously ensuring enough healthy fat is being consumed in the diet is critical in order for your body to use it effectively.
So are carbohydrates the devil? We don't think so. We believe that whole food sources of carbohydrates in the right amount for YOU can be a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet and can provide key nutrients. Varying the types of carbohydrates (remember, ALL vegetables contain some carbs) is a great way to maximise your nutrient status. It will also improve your training, your overall health, your sleep and your hormones. Remember, finding the amount of carbohydrates that suits you and best allows you to achieve your goals while feeling great is completely individual.
Following a 'paleo' or 'real food' lifestyle is automatically going to create a lower carb diet than the standard Australian diet because it removes processed foods and potentially grains. Lowering your carbohydrates does not mean you need to be "low carb" or "keto". You can read more on Keto HERE. It is merely a case of finding the right level of carbohydrates that supports performance, sleep, hormone health and nutrient sufficiency while allowing you to create a sustainable healthy lifestyle. It's also important to keep in mind that just because you did well with keto or higher carb at a specific point doesn't mean that will always serve you well. The needs of our body change at various times with varying stressors and physical output. Being intuitive about what your body needs and adapting to it is important.
Below is a chart of real food carbohydrates to give a general idea of how much is contained in various foods.
We suggest working with a coach or practitioner to help determine what is the optimal level of carbohydrates for you right now.