Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years, partially thanks to popular diets like keto. But carbohydrates are incredibly important for a slew of reasons. The key is to make sure that you are eating the right kind and the right amount of carbs every day. Carbs should not be considered a bad word, but it’s important to know that not all carbs are created equal, and it’s about finding balance. In other words, while you shouldn’t overdo it in the carb department, eating too few carbs can counteract your hard work if you are committed to a healthy lifestyle. So, if you aren’t feeling quite right, you may want to ask yourself, “are you eating enough carbs?”.
The Importance of Carbohydrates
When trying to maintain a healthy weight or build strong muscles, protein and fat tend to gain a lot of attention when it comes to which macros to focus on. But carbohydrates are incredibly important to your health.
So, what makes carbs so important? Simply put, they are the body’s main source of energy. Without enough carbohydrates for the body to use as fuel, your body may undergo the less efficient mode of using protein or fat as energy. Plus, certain nutrient-dense foods that fill nutrition gaps, like fruit, are very important parts of an overall healthy diet. When avoiding these nutritious foods, your body can potentially miss out on key nutrients.
Fiber, a specific type of carbohydrate, plays a key role in your body because it is not digested by the body. Rather, it helps the body by keeping bowel movements regular and promoting satiety. Additionally, fiber can help support heart health. So, if you are cutting out carbs, you may be missing out on the ever-important fiber, which can lead to some unsavory outcomes (especially when it comes to bowel movement regularity).
RELATED: 95% of People Don’t Eat Enough of This Nutrient
Are You Eating Enough Carbs? 5 Signs You May Not Be
If you are not tracking your macros (as many of us are not), you may not have any idea how many carbs you are actually eating. Thankfully, there are some tell-tale signs that you may experience that can help you know if you are a little short on your carb intake in your diet.
#1 You Feel Run Down
Carbs fuel your body and brain. So naturally, if you don’t take in enough “fuel” you may feel tired. And while you may not feel super-sluggish when you are working or doing your day-to-day activities, the effects may strike during your workout when you find that you can’t do as many reps as you once did or you find yourself fatiguing more quickly during a HIIT class.
#2 You Feel Hungry Shortly After Eating a Meal
Carbs help regulate hunger. And not eating enough carbs can cause the body to therefore feel hungry not long after the last time you ate food.
Eating fiber is notorious for slowing down digestion and helping people feel satisfied. Skipping carbs means you are skipping fiber, and therefore skipping the nutrient that gives your meals some staying power.
#3 You Have Bad Breath
If you are cutting carbs to the point that your body goes into ketosis to break down other macros for fuel, you may notice that you are in need of a breath mint ASAP. As your body continues to need fuel while you are limiting carbs, it is forced to break down fat stores, resulting in the production of acetone as a by-product, which can lead to bad breath.
#4 You May Have Nutrient Deficiencies
Certain carbs — think donuts and potato chips — are essentially void of a significant amount of nutrients. Other carbs — think fruits and whole grains — are chock-full of unique vitamins and minerals that are hard to obtain when carbs are limited or cut out.
Over time, you may not have enough of certain nutrients, including vitamin C, thiamin, and certain antioxidants in your body. Long-term, this can lead to some negative effects on your health.
#5 You May Experience Constipation
If you are avoiding fruits, whole grains, and certain starchy veggies, you may be missing out on the nutrient that is utterly essential to help keep bowel movements regular. It is recommended to take in approximately 25-30 grams of fiber every day — no easy feat when you are limiting or avoiding fruit, beans, whole grains, and other foods that are rich fiber sources.
The Healthiest Carbs to Add to Your Diet
So you get that carbs are important, and not eating enough can result in some unsavory symptoms. But choosing the right type of carbs is just as important as eating enough of this macro.
There are two categories of carbs: complex and refined. Complex carbs, like whole-grain bread and quinoa, digest slowly in the body and in many cases contain more nutrients. Refined carbs, like white bread and white rice, are oftentimes processed, and the most nutritious parts of the food is removed. Eating refined carbs may elevate your blood sugars rapidly and can be void of key nutrients.
When choosing which foods you should focus on, try and fill your plate with choices like fruit (preferably with skin), whole grain bread, beans, quinoa, farro, and other ancient grains, and dairy foods like 2% milk.
Carbs to Limit or Avoid
When evaluating which carbs to include in your diet, some choices that should be limited (or avoided) include cookies, donuts, and other refined sweets, fried potato chips, white bread, white rice, and other refined grains, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup, and candy.
Stay Fueled and Focused
Carbs should not be viewed as the enemy in the dietary world. Rather, choosing the right carb choices in the right quantity can be an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle. So, if you find yourself feeling symptoms like being abnormally tired, having bad breath, or experiencing constipation, grab yourself a piece of whole-grain toast with some nut butter or snag yourself a fresh piece of fruit to nosh on. Your body and brain will thank you for it.