Carbohydrates can get a negative rap. Eat more protein they say. No bread, no pasta, no chips! Carbs are bad and will make you fat! But are they really that bad? And are they only found in those things? The answer is a resounding ……..NO! They are not only necessary and essential for your healthy vegan lifestyle; they have been ridiculously underestimated for far too long.
High protein, low carb diets like Paleo may be the latest fad, but they really aren’t that healthy for you. Sure, a low carbohydrate diet can cause quick weight loss, but a long term plant-based lifestyle including protein, fats, and carbohydrates is essential for your nutritional needs, growth, and sustainability.
What Exactly Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, called so because of their chemical level of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, are sugars, starches, and fibers that your body breaks down and uses to feed the cells in your body. They are the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates, even in small amounts, are found in most foods. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
So why are carbs so misunderstood as the bad guy? That’s because excess carbs in your body are basically stored as fat. Who wants that? Does that make all carbs evil? Absolutely not.
There are two main categories of carbohydrates
Complex Carbohydrates – Good Guys
Simple Carbohydrates – Bad Guys
Complex and simple carbohydrates both turn into sugar (glucose) in our bodies, but how fast they digest is what makes them different. Complex carbohydrates digest slowly. Simple carbohydrates digest too quickly. Is that really such a big deal? Yes! Why?
Complex carbohydrates are our nutritional friends. They are high in fiber, digest more slowly (helping to satisfy our hunger and keep us that way), and pack in more nutrients than simple carbs.
These carbs are excellent for long term health by managing blood sugar spikes after meals, promoting bowel regularity, and even help to control cholesterol.
Because of these benefits, complex carbohydrates are Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Healthy too. You should regularly eat healthy complex carbs. Our options are infinite.
HEALTHY COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
Quinoa, whole-wheat, buckwheat, popcorn, oatmeal, millet
Black, kidney, garbanzo, butter, kidney, and pinto beans, peas, lentils
Oranges, bananas, blueberries, grapefruit, apples, pears, strawberries
Sweet potatoes, beets, Brussels sprouts, onion, zucchini, potatoes
Whole grains are not only healthy carbohydrates, but they are loaded with protein, fiber, and a large variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Iron, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and other plant-based compounds are rich in value in whole grains. Try a Buddha bowl with quinoa, mixed vegetables, and a Thai peanut sauce. How about a slice of whole-wheat toast spread with almond butter? Grab a bowl of popcorn to snack on.
Legumes are hearty and healthy. High in protein and fiber, legumes are also great sources of folate, potassium, copper, zinc, and manganese. Whip up some homemade hummus with Tahini and garbanzo beans. Black bean tacos are an easy weeknight meal. Make a lentil soup with fresh vegetables.
Fruits, like carbohydrates, seem to get the evil eye when it comes to nutrition and sugars but are necessary for proper nutrition. They are not our enemy. We need them for healthy living.
Oranges, one of the world’s most popular fruits, are rich in vitamin C, fiber, potassium, some B vitamins, citric acid, and several antioxidants.
Bananas, the most widely eaten fruit in the world, is a nicely packaged, easy to take with you, special treat that’s a good source of fiber, magnesium, potassium, Vitamin C, and B6.
Blueberries are nothing less than a superfood. Consisting of mostly water, they are touted as being high in antioxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and manganese.
Mix up a variety of fruit salad with a few dashes of lemon juice. Grab a banana and jar of peanut butter to take to work for powerhouse snacks. Whip up endless smoothies.
Vegetables contain most of the nutrients we need.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes have endless possibilities. What versatile veggies. Bake, fry, boil, mash, steam, grill, or microwave to name just a few of the multitude of ways of preparing these delicious spuds. These beauties have lots of Vitamin C, potassium, protein, Vitamin A, and fiber. Try baked sweet potato fries. Boil and mash some potatoes to serve as a side dish. Bake either and top with your favorite vegetables and seasonings.
Beets, our earthy deep purple vegetables, are packed with vitamins, plant compounds, minerals, and antioxidants. Mix into a homemade veggie burger. Serve as a side to compliment any meal. Pickle them up and take them with you to your next picnic.
Zucchini is a low calorie, low-fat vegetable. Potassium, Vitamin C, and fiber are all-natural healthy plus positives of this easy growing veggie. Try some zucchini slices on the grill, bake some zucchini chips in the oven, and add this abundant vegetable to stir-fries.
Healthy complex whole food carbohydrates are some of the healthiest foods that people should be eating. Now that you have an idea of what some good guy carbs are, let me introduce you to the carbs you should avoid as much as possible.
- PASTA MADE WITH WHITE FLOUR
- SODA POP
- FRUIT JUICE
- MOST PREPACKAGED CEREAL, CAKES, MUFFINS, AND BAKED GOODS
- WHITE FLOUR BREAD
These simple carbohydrates contain a lot of sugar, are easily digested, and provide quick energy, but remember, too many of these carbohydrates get stored as fat if your body has too much. Processed, prepackaged foods are the worst with massive amounts of sugar and carbs. White flour has been stripped of its nutrients and whole grains. Fruit juice is just a sugar rush. Soda pop is oozing with added sugar. The average can of regular soda pop has an additional 35 grams of added sugar (9 teaspoons)!
Try to limit or eliminate most simple carbohydrates. Use healthier choices in their place. Grab a lemon water. Use whole grains in place of the white flour. Stop buying prepackaged cereals. They are heavily laden with added sugars. If you make positive selections on what you put into your body, your body will respond accordingly. Complex is in. Simple is out.
When you eat whole food carbohydrates, your body will reap the benefits. Digestive health will flourish. Weight, Type 2 diabetes, and cancers can all be helped with a whole foods plant-based diet. Blood sugars are more controlled. The risk of heart disease is diminished.
When you eat simple carbohydrates, your body will struggle. Weight gain, inflammation, and disease are pushed along with these simple carbohydrates. High in basic sugars, fats, and little nutritional value makes these choices the wrong ones for health and longevity. Look around you. The percentage of people young and old that are overweight, diseased, and dying are growing rapidly by the day. It’s no coincidence that what they eat corresponds with their unhealthy outcomes. It’s easier to take a pill for this, pop a pill for that instead of looking yourself in the mirror and making the decision to eat healthily. Plant-based carbohydrates, along with protein and fats can help you live your best life ever.
Carbohydrates can be our nutritional friends. We just need to be educated ourselves on which ones are helpers and healers and which ones are detractors and inflammation-causing.
Just remember that complex is best! Don’t be afraid of a garden full of fresh vegetables and fruits. Corn on the cob, ripe tomatoes, summer squash, bell peppers, raspberries, strawberries, carrots, onions, and any other fruit or vegetable you can plant. The only carbs you need to worry about are candy, dairy, and any prepackaged sweets and breads, concentrated fruit juices, and simple sugars.
Never be afraid of the right kinds of carbs!