Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Carbs

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | March 29, 2016

Carbohydrates don't have the best reputation. They're what I like to call “unfad”—people are hesitant and sometimes embarrassed to include carbs in their diet. The consumption of carbohydrates is usually followed by guilt, remorse, and heavy-hearted confessions. “I had half a banana today” or “I just couldn’t resist a warm slice of toast with breakfast this morning…” With the increasing popularity of low carb and carb-free diets in the media, it's no wonder people are getting the idea that carbohydrates will wreak havoc on their bodies!

This takes me back to the 90s when the term “fat-free” gained its popularity. People were afraid of fat, so they eliminated it from their diets altogether. This led to a number of health issues, including loss of hair, loss of energy, weight gain, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and even dry skin. So what will eliminating carbohydrates from our diets do to us in the next few years? Athletes are already unable to complete training sessions and children complain about “fuzzy thinking” at school. Adults increasingly are finding themselves in a constant state of hunger throughout the day.

Our bodies actually need carbohydrates because they provide us with energy. However, not all carbohydrates are the same. Consuming too many processed carbs is not good for your health since they don't support optimal brain function or weight loss efforts. The best carbohydrates for your body are those that are complex in nature, called complex carbs. They are great sources of energy and nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and water.

Here is a list of my favorite energy-boosting, nutrient-rich carbohydrates:

  • All potatoes (white, russet, red, yellow, purple, fingerling, and petite)
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Fruits (especially bananas)
  • All vegetables (most are low in carbs, except for the winter squash family, which includes butternut squash and acorn squash)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains (oats, bulgur wheat, quinoa, barley, brown rice, and more)

As long as you are eating natural whole foods, you have nothing to fear! Whole foods contain nutrients that your body needs for optimal health and you can find some of these nutrients in complex carbohydrates. Carbs processed in factories, including chips, crackers, cookies, cakes, etc., should be consumed in minimal amounts.

When it comes down to it, you shouldn't feel guilty enjoying whole food carbs! Enjoying them as part of a balanced diet will keep you full and provide you with all the energy and nutrients you need!

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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