Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. In recent years, carbs have gotten a bad reputation as the macronutrient that causes weight gain. The slightest hint of eating carbs while on a diet conjures up lectures from gym nutritionists about the benefits of going low carb. The reality is weight balance has much more to do with overall calorie intake than carbohydrate levels. Foods rich in [good] carbohydrates have many health benefits including: lower cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease/cancer and help with weight loss.
1. Fruits. Fruits are rich in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. While fruits contain simple sugars, they are also loaded with fiber which slows down the digestion and absorption process. This slow digestion/absorption process is important because it helps you stay full for a long period of time, keeping calorie intake low.
Foods high in fiber keep you satisfied for a much longer time than foods with little or no fiber. Fiber has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of developing certain cancers. Stay away from fruit juice as it is not the same as eating a whole fruit. The process of making commercial fruit juice removes the pulp and skin of the fruit which contains much of the fiber. What's left is a sugary liquid high in calories and low in nutrients.
2. Vegetables. Vegetables, like fruits, are loaded with nutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber) but contain fewer calories. Because of their high fiber content, they keep you full for a very long time helping you eat less throughout the day.
3. 100% Whole Wheat Products & Brown Rice. Whole wheat flour contains nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber that are largely removed during the production of refined white flour. Check the nutrition label of bread and pasta to ensure the first ingredient listed is 100% whole wheat flour. The same is true for brown vs. white rice. Brown rice is left intact and contains more nutrients while white rice is stripped of nutritional value in the name of improving flavor and texture.
4. Oatmeal. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast foods as it is high in complex carbs and fiber. Oatmeal is digested slowly and gives you a steady supply of energy throughout the morning. Choose traditional oatmeal and add your own ingredients. Pre-flavored oatmeal is loaded with sugar and much higher in unhealthy calories.
5. Legumes. Legumes (beans, peas, peanuts) are loaded with healthy/complex carbs, and packed with non-animal protein. They are also loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals.
The Bottom Line
Lumping all carbohydrates into one group is counterproductive because you end up eliminating foods that have important health benefits. Eating carbs does not necessarily lead to weight gain just as avoiding them does not necessarily lead to weight loss. Low carb diets can work because they create a calorie deficit causing weight loss. There are much smarter, more effective and healthier ways to lose weight than removing carbohydrates from your diet.
Weight balance is all about consuming less calories than you burn. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of losing weight; cutting all carbs out of your diet is great example of an unhealthy way to lose weight.