When it comes to nutrition, there are many fallacies and generalizations that create and abundance of confusion which is further perpetuated by fitness professionals and individuals who work out of their scope of practice. Carbohydrates have been given a bad rap over the last few years due to the popularity of low-carb and ketogenic diets, but the reality is that carbohydrates are not necessarily bad.
An individual’s carbohydrate needs will be dependent on several factors and will vary from each individual. A professional soccer athlete would require a completely different amount of carbohydrates for peak performance then would a slightly overweight person who works in an office. Variables such as:
- Activity levels
- Types of activity
- Body fat percentage
- Blood pressure
- Cholesterol levels
- Diabetes risk
- Individual fitness/nutrition goals
All can influence the need and type of carbohydrates that one would want to consume.
It has also been suggested that the quality of carbohydrates is based upon the glycemic index of a carbohydrate. The glycemic index is a measurement of the effect on glucose and insulin response following ingestion of a specific food.
A high glycemic index food (GI 70+) is typically associated with an acute increase in blood glucose and an increased insulin response. These types of foods would be simple sugars, are usually low in nutrient density and often processed. High GI carbs can be beneficial for those looking to replenish energy stores following a hard workout or sport; but have also been loosely correlated with health risks such as insulin resistance, diabetes, coronary artery disease, inflammation and poor gut health when consumed in abundance over the long term, such as in a typical American diet.
A low glycemic index carbohydrate (GI < 55) would be associated with a lowered blood glucose and insulin response. These types of carbohydrates are typically associated with higher amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and increased satiety levels; that make them a much more appropriate option for the vast majority of the population.
So although there are not necessarily any bad carbs or good carbs, what’s more important is understanding your nutrient needs as well as the amount and type of carbohydrates you need based upon you as an individual. If you are looking to swap some of the higher glycemic index foods, you have been eating for lower glycemic index food use the list below to make some easy adjustments to your current nutrition.
Swaps for lowering glycemic index
|Instead of this high-glycemic index food||Eat this lower-glycemic index food|
|Brown rice or converted rice
Grapefruit, Apple, Banana
|Macaroni||Whole Wheat Fettuccini|
|White bread||Whole-grain bread|
|Peas or leafy greens