With so many high protein, low carb diets out there, many health-conscious people might be scared to load up on carbohydrates. However, while simple carbs (like processed sugar and white flour products) have little nutritional value, complex carbohydrates are actually a vital part of any balanced diet.
What Exactly is a Complex Carbohydrate?
So what makes complex carbohydrates so special? These carbohydrates, according to Medline, are sugar molecules which form into long and complicated chains. They are found naturally in a wide variety of foods and the best sources for these carbs include:
• Legumes (foods like peas, beans and lentils)
• Fresh whole fruits
• Whole grain products (like whole grain breads and pastas)
While these carbs do contain sugars, they also contain large amounts of fiber and other important nutrients like vitamins and minerals. These are not contained in most refined, simple carbs. This lack of nutritional value is why these carbs are called “empty calories”.
Why Include Complex Carbs in Your Diet?
One Green Planet gives some great reasons why complex carbohydrates are an integral part of any healthy diet:
- They boost your energy levels and metabolism. Complex carbohydrates are actually a great way to keep your energy levels high (to make it easier to exercise and stay active) and to keep your metabolism burning fuel at a healthy rate throughout the day. These carbs are a great energy source that your body can use immediately, but because they break down more slowly in the system, they provide a steady release of energy throughout the day and avoid problems like fatigue and lack of energy.
- They improve your digestion and curb the appetite naturally. One of the best things about complex carbohydrates is that they tend to be high in fiber – and fiber is a great way to help clean out your digestive tract and avoid problems like constipation. This is why high-fiber drinks like prune juice are such a great remedy for this issue. At the same time, these special carbs can help you to actually lose weight. How? Fiber helps to naturally curb your appetite. This makes it easier to eat less – and that, in turn, makes weight loss goals easier to achieve.
- They support a healthy brain and nervous system. Complex carbohydrates are not just great for your body – they help your mind and nervous system, too! Complex carbs transform into glucose, which your brain uses for the energy it needs to carry out all its vital functions. Including them in your diet gives you the mental focus and energy you need to get things done throughout the day. At the same time that it boosts your brain function, many complex carb-rich foods can help tamp down nervousness and control anxiety naturally.
How Can You Add More Complex Carbs to the Diet?
At this point you may be wondering how it is possible to get more complex carbs in your diet in a way that is healthy and that can also help you achieve weight loss goals.
Harvard Health has a Healthy Eating Plate Program that acts as a general guideline for healthy eating – and that plan is largely based on healthy carbohydrates. The site notes that because of the healthy benefits of complex carbs, the amount of these nutrients is not as important as their quality. The Healthy Eating Plate program is designed so that eaters will fill up around ½ of their plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables, with whole grains taking up another ¼ of the plate.
According to the Harvard site, other ways to improve the diet include: starting the day with whole grain cereals like steel cut oats, working whole grains into lunches and snacks (in the form of foods like whole grain wraps or crackers, for example) and making simple substitutions in your meals (such as choosing whole fruits instead of juices and beans instead of potatoes).
So don’t feel guilty about loading up on those veggies, fruits and whole grain products: these foods are a vital part of a balanced, healthy diet and can actually help you to lose weight and keep your energy levels steady and strong throughout the day.