There is no question that carbohydrate (Carbs) have a bad reputation. This is because there have been numerous credible reports that link them to weight gain, obesity and other diseases. But are all Carbs really bad for you?
Carbs are our main source of Energy The process goes like this: When we eat food with Carbs they get broken down in the gut into simple molecules of glucose and fructose. These simple molecules are then carried on by the blood into other parts of the body where the Carbs are used immediately for energy. This energy is what we use to exercise, move, breath and think. If there is enough energy to operate these body functions, then the excess carbs are stored in the liver and muscles where the body can readily access it for future energy needs. Finally, any additional excess Carbs that are not used for immediate energy or stored for fast access, are stored as a slow to access energy in the form of body fat.
Not all Carbs are the same Despite the common use of the word Carbs as a single nutrient, we need to acknowledge that there are different types of Carbs. Each type of Carb behaves differently and thus have different impact on your body. The fastest absorbing carbs (high glycemic index) are the simple molecules like sugar, glucose and fructose that are found in soda, candy and sweet snacks. These carbs also raise insulin. While complex carbs such as those found in legumes, nuts and some grains are slow digesting (low glycemic index). Let’s not forget about the carbs that do not get digested at all such as fiber.
Importance of the Carbs source Simple carbs such as sugar and fructose are used for energy quickly so they are great while you are running a marathon where you need continuous energy to keep your leg muscles moving. This is the reason why Energy Bars, Sports drinks and Gels exist. However, consuming these products while living a more sedentary lifestyle, like most of us, will have a negative health effect. This is because only a small portion of the sugar ingested will be used for energy while the rest will be stored as body fat. For the mainstream sedentary consumer, a better option is to consume slower digesting complex carbohydrates that are more efficiently used as energy and therefore less of a chance of turning into fat (and raising insulin). Following this logic, a combination of simple and complex carbs would likely be the best option for a person that is moderately active i.e. walks for 30 min/day, goes to the gym, does yoga, play with kids, etc. A combination of these carbs should provide the immediate energy needed to exercise while replenishing the carbs lost, and providing more sustained energy throughout the day.
How to find out what type of carbs are in your snack? Any person with a light to moderate active lifestyle should look for snacks to keep them energized throughout the day and during exercise. The following are tips on how to find these healthy snacks by looking at the nutritional fact panel and ingredients in the back of the packaging:
- Total carb: Total carbs are only part of the story. It will not tell you if they are slow or fast digesting. It should be looked at in combination with fiber, sugar and the ingredient list. In general look for snacks with 20g or less carbs per serving
- Dietary Fiber: Does not digest so it should be deducted from the total carbohydrate amount. Look for snacks with 3g of fiber or more per serving
- Sugar: it’s a simple carb and is fast digesting so avoid its overconsumption. Look for snacks with 3g or less sugar per serving
- Slow digesting Complex carbs: this is not listed on the nutritional facts but it can be estimated by looking at the ingredient list. Look for snacks with ingredients that include beans and nuts, oats, rice, quinoa, wholegrains. These ingredients are high in complex carbs.
- Fast digesting Carbs: Limit the consumption of snacks that contain high amounts of fast digesting carbs such as corn, potato, flours (not from wholegrain), chocolate, candy, sugar. For instance, avoid snacks that have for its first ingredient corn or potato or wheat flour
Consume snacks with good nutrition. Find snacks that have as their first ingredient a legume (beans) or nut. Look for products with 3g or less of sugar per serving and 3g or more of fiber. Limit the consumption of snacks that have as their first ingredient corn or potato or wheat flour (not whole wheat)
Pnuff Crunch is a tasty snack with great nutrition. Made from Navy Beans, Peanuts, rice and other natural ingredients it provides the perfect combination of slow-, med- and fast digesting carbs that provides energy to support active lifestyles without turning into fat. Also a good snack choice for people with diabetes.