Of all types of food, carbohydrates get the worst rap – they’re almost universally viewed as the problem child of any diet plan. Many people swear by extreme carbohydrate restriction for weight loss (Atkins & ketogenic diet followers, for example). But it comes down to one simple fact: not all carbs are created equal! Carbs can be a fantastic addition to a healthy, balanced diet – you’ve just got to be a bit choosey.
Virtually every type of food and beverage has some amount of carbohydrates, with the most obvious exception being water. Carbohydrates are a class of macronutrient – the sugars, starches, and fibers that are found in everything from fruits and vegetables, to bread and dairy products. Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for the energy we need to perform day-to-day living. Your body can’t make carbohydrates on its own, which is why they must be obtained through your diet.
Fun fact: carbohydrates and named after the fact that they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
This is a tough question, because the right diet for each person is unique. In general, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) suggests adults get 45-65% of their total calories from carbohydrates. A simple way to figure out what that means for you: 1 gram of carbohydrates equals about 4 calories. Multiply the total amount of calories you consume per day by 0.45 and divide by four in order to get the minimum recommended daily number of grams of carbohydrates for you.
Let’s get to the good stuff: what can we eat!? There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. As we mentioned previously, carbohydrates are made of fiber, starch, and sugar. Sugar is considered a simple carbohydrate (not as good), whereas fiber and starch as considered to be complex carbs (better). The ratio of these three molecules in a food source determines if, overall, it is a complex or simple carbohydrate. Some great complex carbohydrates include:
Chickpeas (45g carbs per one cup)
Oats (27g carbs per ½ cup dry)
Sweet Potatoes (26g carbs per 1 small)
Butternut Squash (16g carbs per 1 cup)
Potatoes (26g carbs per 1 small)
Black beans (41g carbs per 1 cup)
Whole wheat bread (14g carbs per 1 slice)
Whole wheat pasta (43g carbs per ½ cup dry)
Quinoa (27g carbs per ¼ cup dry)
Brown rice (32g carbs per ¼ cup dry)
Lentils (40g carbs per 1 cup cooked)
Green peas (14g carbs per 100 grams)
Fiber-Rich Vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens, carrots)
Fiber-Rich Fruits (apples, berries, bananas)
On the opposite side of the spectrum from complex carbohydrates are the simple ones, those that have a higher ratio of sugar. There are some simple carbohydrates that can be good before or after a workout, or in the morning. These carbohydrates include white rice, pasta, fruit, and rice or corn based cereals.
Some less desirable, simple carbohydrates include:
Lemonade, Iced tea