Friday, May 21, 2010

Good Carbs Bad Carbs

Fad diets are great for three things—making the originator of the diet rich, making people spend a lot of money, and confusing the heck out of people. defines "Fad" as a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group.
The success of a fad diet or fitness trend is usually not measured by the number of people who make healthy lasting life-changing habits. No, their success is usually measured by how much money they rake in. They're usually enough curious people that end up trying the method or product that monetarily the trend is a success. Often fads do produce an initial positive change that stirs-up a lot of hype, but usually the fad is not something that a person can stick with long term and incorporate into a life-long habit. The problem this causes is that the public tends to remember that initial change not that it didn't have a lasting effect. So, even long after the fad has past, the original thinking (or lack there of) that went along with the fad tends to hang around. That's kind of what happened with the No-Carb-Craze. There are still people that shy away from any kind of carb because they think they're all bad.

In general, people want that quick fix. We've all been suckered into one gimmick or another. I've owned an Ab Roller and yes a Health Rider too. Now that I look back and picture me on the Health Rider contraption, I think I must have looked like an overgrown kid on an adult hobby horse. And to think that thing cost almost $400! I bet more than a few of you have a Thigh Master hidden away on a closet shelf too! I remember when I was a kid, one of my mom's friends had a vibration belt machine. I think the theory was you could jiggle the fat away!

The '80s saw the low-fat craze which was followed in the '90s by the no-carb craze. There was even a store down the street from my home that was a Carb-Free Store. Luckily, People are finally coming out of the ban-the-Carbs-era, but it's amazing how many individuals still think carbs are the bad guys. The reality is that anything can be the bad guy if you over indulge. Carbohydrates are essential to your survival.

Actually one theory sports scientists have as to why many marathoners bonk around mile 20 is that the brain goes into protective mode when it thinks it's in danger of running out of carbs. So, to protect itself, the brain actually fatigues the muscles causing you to slow down, hence protecting those important carbs.

But even if you're not running a marathon, carbs are essential to your diet. According to Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) guidelines, your total caloric intake should be comprised of 45%-65% carbs. For simplicity let's just say 50%. So for a 2000 calorie diet, that's about 1000 calories.

So what is your DRI for carbs? In order to determine this, you need to know how many calories you consume in a day. You can do this a couple of ways. One way is to keep a log of your daily eating. Simply list (hand written in a journal or electronically on a spreadsheet) all the foods you eat each day for 3 days. Pick three days that represent your typical eating habits. Don't include a day that contains unusual eating such as attending a pot-luck-dinner or a dinner party where you may eat more than you normally would. Then use a calorie-counter book to list the calories for each food listed. Most of the new books include calories for common fast foods and prepackaged foods too. Or you can use a site like This site is free and you can keep track of all your foods by using their extensive food data base as well as adding in your own foods that may not be listed. This site not only will keep track of calories, it can generate reports on other areas such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Once you know the total calories for each of the three days, calculate the average for the three days to determine your daily Total Energy Intake. Your Total Energy Intake could be too low, just right, or too high. To determine the appropriate Total Energy Intake for someone with your height, weight, and activity level [click here] to use the Daily Calorie Needs Calculator. Compare your actual Total Energy Intake with the Daily Calorie Needs Calculator result. Are you in the ballpark? Do you need to eat more? Cut back?

Once you know what your daily caloric intake is (or should be) all you have to do is take 50% of your total daily calories and that's the number of calories you need each day from carbs. (If you want to have a range of calories to work with, multiply the Total Energy Intake by 45% and 65%. For a 2000 calorie diet, the carb-calorie range would be 900-1300 calories)

Nutrition labels usually list carbs in grams not in calories, but it can easily be converted. One gram of carbs equals four calories. So, a food that has 20g of carbs is going to contain 80 calories from those carbs. And thinking of it in the inverse relationship, if you're wondering how many grams of carbs equal 1000cals (your daily requirement of carbs for a 2000cal daily diet), just divide 1000 by 4 and you'll get 250 grams. So about about 1000 calories of your 2000-calorie daily diet will come from carbs and that equates to about 250 grams of carbs. (Keep in mind that you need to replace 2000 with whatever The Daily Calorie Needs Calculator computes as your daily caloric need.)

Cool. Now that you know the percent of daily calories that should come from carbs and you know how many grams of carbs that equals, there's one more thing you need to keep in mind—not all carbs are alike. The ban-all-carbs craze of the 90s (for the most part) categorized all carbs as bad. But, that you see, was the fad's "gimmick"—Eat Meat, Not Bread. It was a lot easier for the consumer to remember. And so began the dawn of the lettuce-wrapped burgers. Funny thing is that lettuce is actually a carb. Perfect example of what we're still trying to overcome today—over generalization of carbohydrates.

There's a lot of science and fancy words I could throw at you—saccharides, monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides, glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose, maltose, and on and on. But the main thing to know is that all carbs consist of different types of sugar units (saccharides). What makes carbs good or bad depends on the number and type of sugar units it contains.

Simple carbs consist of one or two units of simple sugar. Because of this, they are very easy to digest and digest quickly. As a result, simple carbs are fast-acting. Ever notice how quickly you get a burst of energy after eating a candy bar? Problem is unless you put that energy to use with some type of physical activity, most likely those calories will be stored as fat. Eating too many simple carbs combined with a sedentary lifestyle are two of the biggest causes of obesity and adult onset diabetes today. I think sports nutritionist Nancy Clark says it best, "Carbohydrates are not fattening; excess calories are fattening."
Simple carbs are mainly represented by highly refined, processed, and packed foods such as cakes, cookies, crackers, white bread, candy, sugary soft drinks, fruit drinks, table sugar, corn syrup, pastries, fast foods, etc. Only about 10% of your daily carbs should come from simple carbs. 10% of 250 grams is only 25 grams. It's amazing how quickly you can use up or go beyond your 10% simple sugar limit:
Little Debbie Mini Powdered Doughnuts = 19g
REESE'S Peanut Butter Cups (2 cups) = 21g
Hershey Bar = 25g
Snickers Bar = 30g
Mountain Dew (12oz can) = 46g
Coke (12 oz can) = 39g
Coke (Medium from McDonalds) = 58g
Coke (32 oz Big Gulp Fountain Drink) = 91g

Complex carbohydrates contain long chains made up of three or more single sugar units. Because of this, they take longer for your body to digest and as a result will stay with you and provide energy for the long haul. You still need to be physically active or even complex carbs can eventually be stored as fat, but it takes longer to do so. As a runner, you most likely will have put those complex carb calories to good use during your runs.
Complex carbs include unprocessed, unrefined, whole grains (wheat, oatmeal, corn, brown and wild rice, etc.), nuts, seeds, dried beans, vegetables, and fruits. Complex carbs are also better than simple carbs because they contain many other vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Some complex carbs even provide other health benefits. Oatmeal for example, has been shown to help lower total cholesterol levels.

You have to be on your toes as a shopper. There are lots of grain products masquerading as whole-grain or whole wheat. Marketing gurus are quite clever in disguising what's really in their products. Just because it's brown doesn't mean it's whole-wheat or whole-grain. Some products contain caramel coloring to give it that brown whole-wheat/grain look. Also, steer clear of products using phrases such as "wheat", "enriched wheat flour", "multigrain", "5-grain", "rye", "made with whole wheat", "made with whole grain", or "contains the goodness of whole grain." Unless it says 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat, it's probably not. Check the ingredients on the label. The closer to the front of the list the more it contains. Look for breads that have at least 3 grams of fiber. If you're at your local bagel shop or bakery, ask them to tell you about their whole-grain and whole-wheat products. In my experience they're more than willing to share with you what goes into their various offerings.

Carbs are an important link in a complex electrical and chemical chain of events that produce energy on which your body runs. Think energy in, energy out. As long as you're fueling your body properly and you're physically active, you'll be putting that fuel to good use and weight gain will be easier to avoid. It's when a higher percentage of simple carbs are ingested and a more sedentary lifestyle is adopted that weight gain will take hold.


Kathleen said...

Nice post! I stopped eating *any* simple carbs 2.5 years ago, and it's been great. (No Gatorade or Gus, either -- they have simple carbs!) I didn't bonk at Mile 20 of the marathon (although I "ran" it rather slowly). Have you seen Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories"? Great book!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Kathleen! That's awesome! Yep, the Taubes'book is a great reference!

Matt said...

Have you seen the video, Sugar: the Bitter Truth? The professor in that video goes into great detail about the metabolism of fructose and sucrose and explains why they are so bad.

In my short effort to get rid of the bad carbs, I've seen a big difference.

Unknown said...

This is a discussion that I have with my husband many times. He just can't figure out the good versus bad, what's important and when. I'll send him the link. Thanks.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Matt! Yes, that movie was really interesting. I'm a little more of a believer of moderation, but I do know that cutting out most of the simple sugars has really given me much more energy.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Cynthia! Cool! I hope it helps!!

Samurai Running said...

"The quick fix" We all know that this is bogus but we are, us humans, best at convincing ourselves that: "This time its different."

You know if those contraptions, like "abshapers" did work they wouldn't have to come up with a new one every 2 years.

Dude if you can make hard work and persistence "Sexy" then you could change the World. I know you're trying ;)

Julie said...

Great post that was packed with helpful information! Thnaks!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Scott! Can you package persistnace? LOL!

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Julie! Hey, great race by the way!!!

Taylor said...

Great post! However, most fruits are considered simple carbs. Most of my simple sugars come from fruits like bananas and apples.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Taylor!Getting al technical on me. LOL! Yep, fruits contain fructose which is a simple sugar and that's what it's best not to drink just processed fruit juices because basically it's highly concentrated fructose. Fruits however, like apples, oranges and pears, are high in fiber as well as nutrient dense with vitamins. So while they may not technically be complex carbs I usually group them in with "Good Carbs."

OrangeBlossom said...

I agree that you have to be on your toes as a shopper. It frustrates me when companies put whole wheat on the front of the package when the first ingredient is enriched wheat flour. And why is high fructose corn syrup in everything; even most yogurts. Ugh!