Good Carbs, Bad Carbs

Wait. Is there such a thing as a good carbohydrate? Absolutely. It’s easy to find examples of bad ones. Pop tarts, twinkies, lollipops. But there are also a lot of good ones.


Original source: here.

            But first, what is a carbohydrate?

For the geeks, a carbohydrate is a combination of a carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atom (which you knew from breaking down the name, didn’t you, smarty pants?). For the non-geeks, a carbohydrate is a nutrient that has 4 calories per gram. And that affects a lot of things in your body. For instance:

  • When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar increases.
  • When you eat carbohydrates, cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases
  • When you eat carbohydrates, your body boosts serotonin (the chemical in the brain that makes you feel happy).

…and more.

None of the above is good or bad. They are just characteristics of carbohydrates. So what makes a carbohydrate either good or bad? As I discussed in my talk, Healthy Foods that Poison: Why You’re Getting Sicker and Fatter Despite Eating Healthier, what’s good for one person may not be good for another. So when we have a client sitting in front of us, there are a few things we need to know before determining whether a particular food will be good or bad for that person:

What is your body type?

If you are naturally skinny with a super-fast metabolism, desperately trying to gain muscle, you need a ton of carbohydrates. In fact, for you, carbohydrates may actually be more important than protein. And if that’s the case, we’ll recommend things like potatoes (either sweet or white), rice, pasta, and other “forbidden” carbohydrates.

On the other hand, if you’ve struggled with weight your entire life, your carbohydrate intake should be much lower, and should also come from sources like buckwheat, quinoa and veggies (yes, veggies are carbohydrates… something no one really talks about). In fact, for the person who is either a type 2 diabetic or close to it, even their fruit intake should be minimal.

But have no fear. Just because you may be severely carbohydrate-intolerant right now, doesn’t mean that will be the case forever. The leaner and healthier you get, the higher your tolerance for carbohydrates. You may never have the tolerance of our skinny friend, but you can definitely have better tolerance than you do now.

What is your goal?

If you’re trying to gain muscle, you will need more carbohydrates than someone trying to lose fat.

How does your body respond to carbohydrates?

First of all, how do you feel after eating carbohydrates? If you feel sleepy and tired, you probably need to cut back on the carbohydrates. If you feel super energetic, you probably also need to cut back on the carbohydrates (but for a different reason). But if you feel satisfied, you’re probably eating just the right amount.

Secondly, if you can do so, get measured. We measure our clients every 2-4 weeks to find out how their body is responding to carbohydrates. We have them eat a certain amount of carbs, and measure their body fat 2 weeks later. If they lost fat, they’re eating the right amount. If they didn’t lose fat or gained fat, they’re eating too much (of course there could be other things at play here).

What kinds of carbohydrates are you eating?

There are “fast” carbs and “slow” carbs. Fast carbs are the ones that raise blood sugar quickly. These include things like candy, dried fruit, rice, white bread, white potatoes and others. Then, there are slow carbs. These include things like brown rice, quinoa, most vegetables, buckwheat, beans, and others.

The person who is severely carb sensitive will need to eat both fewer and “slower” carbs. The person who is having a hard time gaining muscle will need to keep the slower carbs, but include more “fast” carbs than his insulin resistant (and jealous) cousin. Can anyone say chocolate milkshake?

Short Summary

  • Carbohydrates are nutrients that raise your blood sugar.
  • There is no such thing as a good or bad carbohydrate. Only a properly-used carbohydrate
  • With our clients, the way we determine what is proper use of a carbohydrate is:
    • Their body type.
    • Their goal.
    • Their individual response to carbohydrates
    • The types of carbohydrates being eaten

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