Carbs, carbs, carbs. They're so good but deemed so bad. Of course, if you're eating refined carbs, such as pastas, white bread, and cookies, all day, those calories can add up, and there's not much nutritional value. Yet, in general, we need carbs to function and maintain steady energy levels.
Here's a theory: the real reason carbs get a bad rep is because once you start eating them, it's hard to stop. Why? Carbs have an addictive quality, where your body tends to crave more, and it's not as efficient as filling you up in general anyway, as say protein or healthy fats would.
Here's what's going on.
When you're still hungry, or that blood sugar is spiked due to the stream of carb and sugar overload, you're going to have a sudden boost in energy. (Some people get really hyper, too, so be mindful of your sugar intake here.) However, shortly after, that energy will fade, and you might "crash," feeling depleted and fatigued. And, what's more, you might be hungrier or crave more carbs, especially if you chose a sugary and refined carbohydrate source in the first place, explains Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT and author of Fertility Foods.
"If you tend to lean towards a carb craving more often than not, that could be related to a variety of reasons. It's not a bad thing to want carbohydrates, they are a source of energy for your body and provides glucose to keep your engine running and stores of energy up. But, if you find yourself eating a bakery muffin for breakfast and then two hours later wanting a candy bar from the vending machine, that could be because you are experiencing a sugar crash, and with that, your body is asking for an immediate supply of carbs to help get your blood sugar back to normal," she explains.
And, when there's that spike in blood sugar, insulin levels also rise, which will then cause a dramatic dip in blood sugar, says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, and author of The MIND Diet. "Eating those sugary, white flour carbs releases a flood of insulin to get that sugar into the cells, which drops blood sugar (the dreaded sugar crash). When that happens, there may still be some insulin floating around, which makes the body crave more carbs. It's a vicious cycle," she says, leading to addiction that's hard to get out of.
A few tips? "To help avoid this, I like to focus on the rule of 3 with my clients: aim for a protein, fat and carb at your meals and snacks," Shaw says.
If you want a satiating breakfast, have a quarter of the muffin (or half if it's a smaller sized muffin) and pair it with a full-fat Greek yogurt with some berries on top, Shaw says. The extra protein will help tide you over while providing some fiber from the fruit to keep you fuller longer. See, it's not that you're avoiding carbs, but making smarter carb choices, here. And, you'll avoid those addictive qualities.
Need inspiration for healthy carbohydrates and sugar swaps? Moon recommends these healthy snacks: a bartlett pear (good carbs and fiber) with a handful of almonds (healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber), shredded turkey breast (lean protein) with apple slices (good carbs and fiber), and soft whole grain corn tortillas (good carbs) topped with black bean dip (fiber and healthy fats) and fresh tomatoes (good carbs).
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