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What You Need to Know About Carbohydrates (Like Why You Shouldn't Quit Them Completely)

Carbohydrates are getting a bad rap these days.

The Ketogenic Diet nearly bans them, the Atkins Diet calls for low-carb, and the Whole30 Diet also cuts them. 

But why have carbohydrates been given such a bad name, and should we actually take them out of our diets? 

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Let's get to the real question: do I really need to have carbohydrates? 

The short answer is: Yes! 

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The long answer is: how much you need really depends on your activity level.  Chat with a personal trainer to calculate your individual need. 

If we break this down, carbohydrates and protein are tied for energy per gram (each at 4 calories/gram), and fat rings in at 9 calories/gram. However, how your body metabolizes these are very different, and while calories can be important, they're not the whole weight loss picture. 

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Your body's first choice for energy is glucose, which is obtained from any carbohydrate (bread, fruit, candy, grains, starchy vegetables).

Second is fats. And finally, we only start pulling from our protein stores when we are in starvation mode. 

Glucose is also the first choice of food for your brain, but it can use ketones from fat if necessary. 

So, if you are doing a lot of physical activity each day, your body will have more energy to actually keep going if you are consuming carbohydrates. Think about long-distance runners or cyclists who carry energy gels. Those packs are carbohydrates that are easily broken down for the body to use as fuel. 

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However, when your body doesn't have glucose to use, it will take energy from fats. Which is why low-carb diets have become popular in the weight loss community. 

But trust me, if your goal is to perform without feeling exhausted, running off of fats alone won't cut it (try completing a spin class without any carbs... you can do it, but it's not fun). 

What types of carbohydrates should I consume?

A basic rule of thumb is the lower Glycemic Load, the better. Here are some of our favourites: 

  • Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and turnip
  • Grains like oatmeal, quinoa and spelt
  • Beans and legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans
  • Fruits, especially berries. 

And even when you are having a food that is carbohydrate rich, try to pair it with proteins and fats to reduce the likelihood of a sugar crash. Try: 

  • Apples with nut butters
  • Berries with Greek yogurt
  • Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds and protein powder
  • Roasted root vegetables using avocado oil

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So why have they gotten such a bad rap?

Well, it's likely due to the fact that the types of carbs that many of us consume these days aren't really beneficial. 

Because glucose, and consequently carbohydrates, are mainly responsible for our insulin levels, they are also the reason we can have a "sugar crash". 

Any refined carbohydrate, especially without being paired with a protein or a fat to slow down it's digestion, will create an imbalance in our blood sugar, causing that crash that we tend to feel. 

And when we have too many carbohydrates? These get stored as fat to be saved for a time when we might be carbohydrate-starved (thanks to evolution and how our ancestors ate). 

Still interested in going sugar-free or low-carb? Talk to a personal trainer to see if one of these diets can work for you. 

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