Carbs get a bad rap, but good news for grain lovers, they aren’t all created equal. Contrary to popular diets like Paleo, Whole30, and the Ketogenic diet, healthy carbs deserve a regular spot on your plate. It’s true, most people could do with eating fewer refined and processed carbs—bagels, muffins, cupcakes, doughnuts, cookies, and pizza crusts aren’t exactly health foods. Highly processed “white” flour sends your blood sugar levels on a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. But healthy carbs, like those found in grains, fruit, veggies, and dairy come packaged with nutrients that support your health in many important ways. So rather than scrapping all carbs, a smarter approach is to pay closer attention to the quality you’re eating.
Here are seven compelling reasons to keep the right kind of carbs on your plate.
1. Carbs Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Yes, that’s correct! Carbs won’t make you fat. A recent Italian study confirmed that people who follow a Mediterranean diet, including pasta, are more likely to have a lower BMI and slimmer waistline. Sure, a mountain of mac and cheese might pile on the pounds. But eat pasta like the Italians do—less than 3 ounces per serving, cooked “al dente”—and you can enjoy your spaghetti and stay slim, too. (Fun fact: Pasta actually has a low glycemic index, which means it creates a slower rise in blood sugar than, say, white bread). Of course, it’s not just pasta—the same BMI benefits have been shown in people who eat whole grains, pulses, and fruit, all delicious carb-rich foods!
2. Carbs Help Reduce Inflammation
Did you know corn has nearly twice the antioxidant activity of apples, while wheat and oats almost equal broccoli and spinach? A diet full of antioxidants means less inflammation, and a lower risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This was supported by a large long-term study, which found that eating more whole grains was associated with lower risks of some diseases, and may even help you live longer.
3. Carbs Can Lower Cholesterol
Soluble fiber, found in legumes, oats, barley, and certain fruits, acts like a sponge in your gut, absorbing harmful toxins and cholesterol. The fiber carries cholesterol out of your system, preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream, and in doing so, can lower your blood cholesterol. Avoid these healthy carbs, and you’ll be missing out on the heart-health benefits they provide.
4. Carbs Fuel Peak Performance
Anyone who’s ditched carbs knows your energy levels can take a serious hit. Almost every cell in your body prefers glucose as the quickest and easiest fuel. It takes more time and effort to convert fat or protein to fuel, and exercising with a low tank of gas can hurt your performance. To power through tough workouts, add a pre-workout snack that contains healthy carbs.
5. Carbs Help Build Muscles
Protein isn’t the only nutrient that helps build muscle tissue. Including good quality carbs in your diet ensures you have the energy to lift those heavy weights. And adding some to your post-workout snack will help release insulin to stimulate muscle growth.
6. Carbs Improve Sleep Quality
If you drag yourself out of bed each morning, fiber may be the answer to a better night’s sleep. A recent study highlighted how a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fat and sugar is associated with lighter, more restless sleep. On the flip side, eating more fiber is associated with deeper, more restorative sleep. So if you’re looking to get more zzz’s, skip the cookies ’n cream ice cream and try a handful of raspberries, instead.
7. Carbs Allow More Flexibility in Your Diet
Cutting all carbs limits your choice of foods dramatically, making dining with friends and family a challenge. Drop the restrictions and make every meal more enjoyable. A whole world of possibilities opens up when sandwiches, grain bowls, and fruit salads become options. And let’s face it, eating should be a pleasant experience, not one filled with feelings of guilt and deprivation.
There’s no need to fear all carbs. Go ahead and skip processed carbs and sugary foods, but don’t miss out on the glorious bounty of nutrients healthy carbs have to offer.