Carbohydrates fuel your brain and body
Last week, I spoke about carbohydrates in general terms. My goal was to reduce some of the anxiety that people feel about eating them. There are, literally, people who are afraid of potatoes!
Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are a macro nutrient group that plays a very important role in human nutrition. They are a major energy source for both the brain and the body, they provide us with much-needed fibre, and carbohydrate-containing foods (such as whole fruits and whole grains) are packed with vitamins and minerals. The anxiety for most people comes from the fear of carbs “making them fat.”
Overeating any foods, including carbohydrates, can make one fat, but, in 30 years of fitness training and sports, I have never met anyone who was fat from eating too many potatoes or binging on too many apples. This week, I want to be specific and provide a list of complex carbohydrates that you can add to your daily diet, in place of the more refined, processed variety to increase your health, your energy levels and help you in being lean.
1. Oatmeal. A great food to have at breakfast to start your day, oats are unique in that they are good for replenishing energy stores and for helping to stabilize blood sugar. Mix in some whey protein before eating or have a bowl of oatmeal as a side dish with your eggs at breakfast along with some fruit for a complete meal.
2. Mixed berries. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries should all be a staple food. They are loaded with nutrition and it is believed they have properties important in the prevention of cancer as well as diabetes. Low in calories, berries also have less of an effect on blood sugar than most other fruits.
3. Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants. They provide long-lasting energy and can help stabilize blood sugar when eaten as part of a complete meal with some protein and healthy fat. Experiment with boiling, baking or even mashing them in place of regular white potatoes.
4. Chickpeas and beans. Starchy carbohydrates, chickpeas and beans (kidney, pinto, navy, etc.) contain significant amounts of protein and are very high in fibre. Extremely versatile, you can add them to a “meal” salad of vegetables and meat to provide complex carbohydrates that will make you feel more satisfied after eating. It’s also easy to add mixed canned beans to your favourite soups.
5. Rice. The interesting thing about rice is that there are so many different varieties. Brown (whole grain) rice is higher in fibre and nutrients and also has a lower glycemic index (it has less of an effect on blood sugar) making it a better choice for someone trying to lose weight. White rice, on the other hand, has a higher glycemic index (meaning that it can raise blood sugar levels quickly). For an athlete who is trying to replenish glycogen stores after hard training sessions, white rice is ideal in moderation.
6. Colourful vegetables. Peppers, tomatoes and leafy green vegetables should be consumed in copious amounts every single day. They provide essential nutrients, fibre, water and the variety of colours means you are getting a wide array of vitamins and antioxidants associated with better blood sugar management, less inflammation and increased energy. Look for ways to add veggies to your meals by stuffing them in pitas and sandwiches or have them raw as a snack.
Ultimately, it really is about balance. Plan your meals and snacks to contain protein, fibre, starch and even healthy fat. At different times, your proportions will change based on your energy needs and on your health and fitness goals.
Remember that all the four groups above are important and that a diet plan that excludes an entire macro nutrient category might bring about short term success, but, is unlikely to be sustainable over a long duration. If you can’t sustain it, you can’t maintain it!
Medical exercise specialist Ernie Schramayr, CPT, helps his clients manage medical conditions with exercise. You can follow him at erniesfitnessworld.com. 905-741-7532 or email@example.com
Sweet potatoes are packed with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants.