Fats were staunchly hated in the 80s & early 90s. However, once everyone started to realize that skimping on fats wasn’t making America any less obese, the good people of this land started to give the stink eye to carbohydrates.
By the late 90s and early 2000s, the Atkins diet, famously low in carbohydrates, made a comeback. We saw a low carb revolution. However, just like with fats, not all carbs are evil.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies and are essential for brain function. The three major types of carbs are sugars, starches, and fibers.
Sugars – The Simple Carbs
Sugars are simple carbohydrates. This means that they contain just one sugar (monosaccharides) or two sugars bonded together (disaccharides). Our bodies quickly digest and easily absorb simple carbs. This can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.
Some foods naturally contain sugars. Examples include fruit sugar (fructose) or milk sugar (lactose).
Some sugars are added during processing or when preparing. These sugars are termed added sugars. They include table sugar (sucrose), honey, and more.
Starches & Fibers – The Complex Carbs
Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) contain three or more sugar units bonded together. The two main complex carbs are starch and fiber.
Starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion. Starches release energy at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates. Our bodies must break down starches to release their energy whereas simple carbohydrates are already broken down.
Fiber, on the other hand, does not get broken down into simple sugars during digestion. In other words, our bodies do not process fiber in a way that releases energy. Even so, fiber is important to include in our diets to produce healthy bowel movements, to help to control blood sugar levels, and more. Sources of fiber include beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
- simple carb
- easy to digest
- gives us energy
- complex carb
- digested into simple sugars to give energy
- releases energy at a slower rate than simple carbs
- complex carb
- non-digestible, does not release energy
- important for reasons other than energy (see here)
Personally, I cannot imagine living off a low carb diet that restricts all types of carbs. I feel best when including both types of complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars, like those in fruit and dairy, in my diet.
You’ll have to make your own decisions on what will work for you. A food diary would come in handy with helping you figure out if anything you are eating is negatively impacting your energy levels.
I do suggest cutting back on added sugars. This post explains why I feel that way. If you are a sugar advocate, you should probably skip that post. 🙂