I’m not a nutritionist or a health professional of any kind, but I have struggled with this question on and off for a pretty long time. I’ve gone through phases where I would have rather poked my eyes out than eat carbs. I’ve also gone through times where I viewed them as the ultimate running fuel. I’ve read a lot on this topic and here’s my conclusion: Do what works for you.
This may come as a shock since I’ve written before about my efforts to live a Paleo lifestyle. For the most part, I do. But, I also have cereal for breakfast almost every morning. I know….gasp! Totally contradictory, right? Here’s the thing. Traditionally, carbs have been labeled either “good” or “bad,” but I don’t like to think of food in such limiting terms. I prefer to think in terms of nutrition. What’s more nutritious, a bowl of Kashi cereal or a sweet potato? Definitely a sweet potato. However, cereal is convenient for me in the morning so I reach for that. I do this fully knowing it’s most likely full of refined carbs and more sugar than is necessary, but I do the best I can and try to choose the “healthier” options. The lesser of two evils if you will.
My trick to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to balance that. So, maybe I didn’t make the best choice for breakfast, but I did what I could given the time I have. I make sure for snacks I eat things like almonds, bananas, pumpkin seeds or red pepper slices to balance out my earlier choice and add variety to my diet. I also eat mostly protein for lunch and dinner whether that’s chicken, steak, pork or a whole grain sandwich with almond butter.
Refined carbs are packed with sugar so when you eat something like a donut or a muffin your blood sugar spikes. They’re not slow digesting carbs so you’re not full for very long. For reference, this PDF from Balanced Bites has a great list of dense, slow digestible carbs. These are the types of carbs I try to regularly incorporate into my meals, but I don’t stress if their less healthier cousins work their way into my diet on occasion.
What’s your feeling about carbs? Do you avoid them at all costs? Focus on “good” carbs? Don’t care either way?