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Carbohydrates are only as complicated as you let them be 

The carbohydrate. An unsuspecting, cyclic molecule consisting of six carbons. Each of these carbohydrates have a water molecule attached to them, thus the name, carbohydrates. 

Unfortunately, carbs are heavily demonized by many. But why so? 

It’s true that carbohydrates are found in sweet, sugary desserts but they are also found in whole grain pasta, sweet potatoes, legumes and your favourite fruits. To understand the confusion around carbohydrates, let’s break them down into simple and complex. 

Complex carbohydrates are actually kinda simple 

A food being high in carbohydrates is not always equatable to being high in sugar. Carbohydrates is the umbrella term for all the different hydrated carbons. 

Complex carbohydrates include whole grains like oats, wheat and rye and fruits & vegetables like bananas, broccoli, apples and carrots. 

When we digest a complex carbohydrate, it will take longer to release the individual molecules of sugars. Fibres are a type of carbohydrate that is non-digestible, and is found in high amounts in complex carbohydrates. 

These fibres (or carbohydrates) can serve as food for our gut microbiome, increasing the amount of residing good bacteria. They can also decrease blood sugar and blood cholesterol, which is associated with reduced risk of heart disease. 

Simple carbohydrates are actually kinda complex 

In contrast, simple carbohydrates like candies, pop, chips, white bread, crackers and cookies don’t contain any fiber. While these foods are good for the soul, they don’t come with the health benefits of complex carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are almost immediately broken down into molecules of sugar by the enzymes in our saliva, and enter our bloodstream. 

But – “simple” carbohydrates are not always equatable with “bad”. Why? Because nutrition isn’t black and white.

Simple carbohydrates are not a waste of calories, as they provide 4 calories per gram meaning they provide your body with energy. Energy, believe it or not, can actually be useful. 

For example, simple carbohydrates in the form of white bread, rice and pasta are crucial for athletes to fuel their muscles prior to exercise. Complex carbs won’t do the job as they take too long to digest and can sometimes cause gas and bloating before exercise. 

For those living with type I or II diabetes, simple carbohydrates are life saving. If blood sugar goes too low, a serving of simple carbohydrates absorbs fast (within 15 minutes) into the bloodstream to normalize blood sugar levels. 

So – what does this mean for you? 

Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables have more health benefits than not. Try to aim to have at least 30-40 grams of fiber per day from these foods. 

Simple carbohydrates, like sweets and white rice, breads and pastas also have their place. They can spark joy, increase energy or save a life. Don’t demonize them, but don’t over-consume them if you don’t have to. 

Article contributed by OpenSpace Clinic

Written by: Kristen Sunstrum, RD

Bio : Kristen is a registered dietitian and member of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec (OPDQ) and Dietitians of Canada. She obtained her B.Sc. in nutritional sciences from McGill University and completed various clinical internships, including specialties in gastrointestinal diseases (Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis), kidney disease, critical care and mental health. She has also provided nutrition counselling for general healthy eating, weight-loss and weight-gain. 

Kristen’s approach to working with clients is a focus on personalized nutrition. Healthy eating goes beyond what’s on one’s plate, requiring a different approach for everyone. Her 100% virtual counselling sessions include a personalized artificial-intelligence food report, and utilizes these data-informed insights for the best nutritional care possible.

GLW Contributors - Professionals in their field. Contributing to Girls Living Well their knowledge, experience and advice.

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