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Nutrition: Are carbohydrates good or bad?



This is the age old question in the nutrition space. Are carbs good or bad? The answer to that question is always, it depends.


Why? Because it depends on so many factors, like the type of carbs, the quantity, your activity level, the purpose of them, the timing of them and most important, your goal.


"Carbs are energy"


So to start; we need to understand what carbs are. They are sources of energy. We can get this energy from two types of carbohydrate; complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. One form of carbohydrate has a slower digestion rate, offers long term energy and is quite satiating. The other provides a burst of energy, is quick to digest and comes in a simple form.


Both serve a purpose; the simple carbohydrates can be of value in pre and post work out for providing short term bursts of energy for performance and recovery. For daily life, and minimally active people complex carbohydrates are a much more sustainable option; providing you with longer lasting energy and making you feel full.


So what do each of these types of carbohydrates look like? Lets start with simple carbs, that can be used for short term energy. they come in the form of; White rice, white bread, breakfast cereals, sweeteners, sugar, etc while complex carbohydrates come in the form of fruits, veggies and whole meal foods.


So with a distinction in terms of what carbohydrates are in terms of energy; there can also be a distinction in the various other nutrients they provide. Generally the more complex they are the more nutrition they provide you with. Lets take the example of rice because after all I do live in Bangkok and practically every meal that I eat has the potential to have rice.


"So what is the difference"


So what is the distinction between white and brown rice. The calorie content can actually be the same so they provide the same amount of energy. So what is the difference. Well white rice is slightly refined, meaning that a lot of the good stuff is taken out to make it last longer on the shelf. Whole meal rice provides you with more vitamins and minerals in the form of magnesium, potassium, protein and fiber. This means that in terms of value of nutrition, brown rice provides you with more.


For high level athletes, cross fitters and athletes in general, they quite often use simple carbs to aid with recovery and performance as they get a quick burst of energy either for performance or recovery


Like I said at the beginning, your consumption of carbohydrates should depend on your goal. What are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to lose weight, are you trying to gain weight? Are you focusing on performance in a specific event? Trying too build muscle? Just want more energy in your life instead of being on a rollercoaster of energy? Or do you just want to be "healthy"?. The level of your intake needs to be measured by you in terms of your body signals, how you are feeling and how your body is responding to said carbs.


From a personal perspective, I eat predominantly veggies with every meal and on days when I am lifting heavy weights I would eat more starchy carbohydrates in the form of whole meal rice. I don't often eat white rice, white bread, etc. That is just a personal choice and habit. It does not mean that these items are bad, they are energy. That's what I see them as. They have a place in your diet and lifestyle, just figure out what place they have.


In summary, when you are asking yourself are carbs good or are carbs bad, then you are really asking yourself the wrong question. Instead ask yourself what are the purposes of carbohydrates? What intake of carbohydrates do I need to suit my goals, my lifestyle and my energy? The more open your question is, the more control you have.