Hello + Happy May!
A while back on Instagram, I asked for your burning nutrition questions and this month I am starting to answer them. Each month, I will answer three questions in hopes of clearing up some nutritional confusion. Please continue to ask me your questions through Instagram, and I will do my best to answer them!
1) What are carbs? Are carbs bad for you?
This was easily the most asked question, which really reinforced how confusing nutrition can be!
Simply put, carbohydrates are one of our body’s main and primary energy sources.
Also simply put, carbs are NOT bad for you!
Now, let’s get into it…
Carbohydrates are one of three macro-nutrients, along with protein and fat. This means it is one of the three ways our body receives energy (or calories) from food. The reason for the name carbohydrate, is that on a chemical level they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Two main types of carbohydrates; ‘Simple’ & ‘Complex’
Simple carbohydrates are those that are digested and absorbed quickly and easily, compared to complex carbohydrates. They contain one or two sugars. Single sugars, also known as monosaccharides, include fructose, glucose and galactose. Carbohydrates with two sugars, also known as disaccharides, include sucrose, lactose and maltose. Simple carbohydrates often contain little fibre, and found in food items such as candy, soda, syrup, as well as white breads, pasta and rice. These carbohydrate sources break down quite quickly in the body, and can spike blood sugar levels, contributing to various health concerns or symptoms.
Complex Carbohydrates are those that contain three or more sugars (polysaccharides), and may be referred to as starches. Complex carbohydrates include fibre, and often sources of complex carbohydrates are high in fibre. Complex carbohydrates break down at a slower pace in the body, leading to less of a spike in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are generally the nutritious carbohydrate sources like whole grains, beans, legumes and vegetables.
Carbohydrates are important to include for energy levels, brain functioning and weight management. As well, healthy complex carbohydrate sources include many important nutrients, that our body may lack when we limit carbs. Fibre that is found in complex carbohydrates is necessary for our digestion, cholesterol management, blood sugar management and weight management. It is important to include healthy carbohydrates like vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes.
When we read nutrition labels, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, fibre (which is included as a carbohydrate) does not break down and we generally do not use fibre as an energy source. When reading labels subtract the fibre content from the total carbohydrates to give the you ‘net carbs’, which means the carbohydrates that actually provide energy to our body. Another point to note, is that the total carbohydrate count does not indicate whether the sources are complex, or simple. It is always wise to read the ingredients to ensure you are getting nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, instead of simple sugars.
Low Carbohydrate Diets
Low carb diets are often used as a weight-loss diet, and certain low-carbohydrate diets are gaining popularity for their various potential therpatuetic benenfit. I generally recommend we pay attention to how many carbohydrates we are eating, in relation to other foods on our place. For instance, I don’t typically suggest we load our plate with only pasta, but instead that we include carbohydrate sources ( like pasta) as part of a balanced meal with many vegetables, a protein source and a healthy fat source. I will also note that the short term benefit of reducing carbohydrates may include weight-loss, but that any sort of restriction may lead to eventual weight gain. If we are restructuring our meals and plates to include less carbs, we must add in a variety of other foods (like vegetables, protein and healthy fat) to feel full, satisfied and satiated- not deprived.
One popular low-carbohydrate diet is the Ketogenic Diet. This is a low-carbohydrate diet that replaces carbohydrates with fat, using the ketones ( the breakdown of fat) as the primary energy source, instead. Something to note here is this is simply not a reduction of carbohydrates, but instead a low-carb/high-fat diet. This diet changes the body’s natural metabolic tendencies, and in my opinion, not a diet to use lightly. There are preliminary studies, which show the potential benefit of this diet, and it may be used therapeutically to help with certain health conditions.
– Carbohydrates are our body’s main energy source.
– They are necessary and healthy.
– Include high-fibre complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, legumes and vegetables, which include nutrient-dense carbohydrates sources.
– Limit simple sugars like table sugar, pop, candy, as well as white/refined bread and pasta.
– Include carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet with protein and healthy fat.
– Low carb diets may be helpful, but speak to your health-care practitioner and do not restrict your food intake.
2) What should I eat when trying to conceive?
Below are a list of the best foods to include when trying to conceive. From a nutritional perspective the main goals are typically to feel healthy and energized, while preparing the body for pregnancy. Generally speaking, following an anti-inflammatory and nutritious diet is the way to go!
Healthy Fats: avocado, fish, fish oils, nuts seeds, olive oil, olives,
Vegetables: colourful vegetables at least 3 x per day
Adequate protein: generally .8g per kg of body weight. Healthy sources include eggs, fish, chicken, chickpeas and lentils.
Water! Try for 6 glasses a day.
Foods high in zinc: pumpkin seeds, zucchini, sardines.
Foods high in probiotics: sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha * limit or omit when pregnant as these are often unpasteurized.
Foods high in magnesium: dark chocolate, brazil nuts, almonds.
It is also noted that reducing and limiting processed foods, simple sugars, alcohol and caffeine can be beneficial.
3) What are some tips for meal prepping?
1. Take time each week to plan- a little bit of planning goes a long way! Plan what you want to make, and write a list for grocery shopping. This way you know what are you looking for at the grocery store.
2. “ Cook once, eat twice” – think in terms of making extra whenever you do cook.
3. Find and create a list of easy go-to meals that you know you like, and know how to make. This will take the thought and potential stress out of figuring out what to cook each day/week.
4. Schedule your cooking time. Allocate time each week (in your calendar!) to cook and prepare a few things ahead of time.
5. Ideas to prep ahead of time; cut veggies, roast veggies, dips, dressing, grains, salmon, turkey meatballs, beans.
I hope you find these posts helpful! Continue to check the blog each month to read some more answers to your common nutrition questions!