5 Reasons You Actually Need Carbs In Your Diet
Many of us think that cutting out carbohydrates from our diets is a simple and effective way to lose a few extra pounds or “tone up” for beach season. And you can’t really blame us when so many low-carb diets — like the ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet and the paleo diet — have taken center stage in the wellness space over the past few years.
But like fats and protein, carbohydrates are essential nutrients that our bodies need daily in order to function properly. For your diet to be considered healthy and balanced, carbs should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake. Here are five reasons why carbs are so essential for maintaining your health.
1. Carbs are the primary fuel for both your body and your brain.
Glucose, a simple sugar derived from carbohydrates, is virtually the only form of fuel that can be used by the human brain and is your body’s preferred energy source. Although a small amount of fat and protein can also be converted to glucose and used as fuel by your body, carbs are by far the main source — since your body converts 100 percent of them into energy-fueling glucose. This is why people on low-carb diets often feel lethargic and find it difficult to concentrate due to “brain fog.” The solution? Up your intake of carbs without the “negative consequences” by reintroducing healthier varieties into your diet. Think brown rice, sweet potatoes and fresh fruits veggies.
2. Your body needs carbs to burn fat for energy.
You’ve likely heard that “fat burns in a carbohydrate flame.” What this means is that in order for your body to completely break down fat for energy use, it needs a small amount of carbohydrate-derived glucose. So, although you might think that reducing your carb intake will force your body to burn more fat, you’re actually slowing down your body’s fat metabolism.
3. Carbs are protein-sparing.
If you dramatically reduce your carb intake, over time, your body will be forced to break down essential amino acids (protein) in order to make adequate glucose to fuel your brain and other body cells. When your body starts using protein as a fuel source instead of carbs, there won’t be enough protein left for essential functions like muscle growth and the repair of damaged muscle tissue (often caused by exercise). As a result, your muscles will start deteriorating — becoming progressively weaker and smaller over time. Therefore, eating enough carbohydrates is necessary for the conservation of your muscles and for muscle growth.
4. Carbs provide you with much-needed fiber.
Because carbs — like starchy veggies, fruits and whole grains — are the primary sources of dietary fiber, if you’re not eating an adequate amount of them, you’re likely not getting enough fiber, either. Eating enough fiber is crucial for your GI health, helping you avoid uncomfortable things like constipation. Foods rich in dietary fiber also make you feel full for longer, curbing cravings and helping you maintain a healthy body composition. Women should eat at least 25 grams of fiber per day, whereas men should aim for 38 grams. You can up your fiber intake by eating more lentils, black beans, lima beans, peas, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal and sweet potatoes.
5. Carbs are the main dietary source of many essential vitamins.
Since numerous vitamins are found in carbs like fruits and starchy veggies, if you’re following a diet that calls for a very low intake of these carbohydrates, you’ll likely end up having some type of nutrient deficiency. Proteins, fats and carbs all provide your body with unique vitamins and minerals, so you need to eat all three in order to get every nutrient that your body needs. When it comes to getting your fill of essential vitamins and minerals, remember to eat the rainbow: the more diversely colored your fruits and veggies are, the more likely it is that you’re getting enough of all the essential nutrients from your diet.
The bottom line is, contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the enemy. But it’s important to get your fill from fruits, veggies and whole grains and steer clear of refined varieties like white rice, white pasta and sugary baked goods — except for the occasional indulgence, of course.