The Carb Conundrum
Fueling our day with the right energy is crucial, and to do that, we need to have a better understanding of the carbohydrates or “carbs” in our diets. Carbs are found in various forms within the foods we eat, and understanding their nuances can guide our nutrition choices. Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the last few years, but it’s important to understand why - especially when it comes to sneaky simple carbs, and the similar effect they can have to added sugar. We're here to bust some carb myths and unpack the carb conundrum.
The Intricacies of Carbohydrates
At their core, carbs are our body's favorite energy source. But, not all carbs are equal. Carbs are usually classified into two types: Simple and Complex.
Often termed 'quick energy' carbs, these are easily and quickly digested and absorbed by our bodies and increase our blood sugar (for more see our Blood Glucose Basics Blog). Simple sugars can be naturally occurring in the foods we eat like fruits and breads, but this category of carbs also includes [the dreaded] added sugars. The most well-known culprits are breakfast cereals and soda, but added sugars are found in many packaged products.
The easiest way to spot added sugars is on the nutrition facts label where companies must include a line that lists “added sugars” thanks to label updates in 2020. You can also double check the ingredients in a product - look out for terms like fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, and sucrose. Sometimes, they're also disguised as agave nectar, cane sugar, or syrup.
If simple carbs are quick energy, then complex carbs are long, slow energy - named for their more complex and elaborate structure and include starches and fiber. Starches are long chains of glucose that break down slower and provide a steady energy release and a slower and lower increase in our blood glucose. These include whole grains or products made with whole grains and root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
And then there's fiber, the unsung hero of carbs or king of the carbs. Fiber isn’t digested by our bodies in the traditional sense. Instead, it aids digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and keeps us feeling full for longer. On nutrition labels, fiber is listed under the broader carb category, but it plays a unique role. Always check out the fiber content on labels; typically the higher the fiber, the more nutritious and filling your food is.
Where do Net Carbs come in?
We often see the term net carbs on snack labels. So, what’s the deal? Net carbs represent the carbs that our bodies can digest (simple carbs and starches mentioned above). We can figure out how many net carbs there are in our food by subtracting fiber from the total carbs on the nutrition facts label. For example, Rivalz Snacks has 13 grams of total carbs, but 4 of those grams are fiber. So, 13 grams - 4 grams = 9 grams of Net Carbs.
Net carbs are important if we're watching our carb intake or if we're on specific diets like keto. Since fiber doesn’t impact our blood sugar in the same way most carbs do, focusing on net carbs can provide a more accurate idea of how a particular food might affect our energy and blood sugar levels.
Simple Carbs, Added Sugars, and Their Double-Edged Sword
Ever felt a rush after biting into a candy bar, only to crash an hour later? Simple carbs and added sugars, can quench a craving but unfortunately lead to rapid spikes in our blood sugar, followed by an inevitable crash. This rollercoaster can wreak havoc on our energy levels, mood, and even our hunger. Over time, excessive spikes can stress our system, leading to a myriad of health concerns. This is a key aspect of how we designed Rivalz – great tasting nutrient dense snacks that result in a lower and slower rise in blood glucose levels.
In summary, it might seem daunting, but with a few tweaks, making smart carb choices on is pretty straightforward
- Investigate to know what’s inside: beyond the obvious "sugar," there are many names sugar hides behind.
- Be Choosey: not all carbs are created equal, choose complex over simple carbs and read labels.
- Be a fiber fanatic: Look for foods that are high in fiber. It helps our guts and keeps us full for longer.
- Balance it out: Many snacks are loaded with simple carbs or high net carbs. Look for snacks like Rivalz that contain a balance of protein, carbs and fiber that satisfy a craving, provide energy and keep you energized.
Navigating the Carbohydrate Landscape
Carbs are fascinating, and integral to our well-being. While they power our days, understanding how simple and complex carbs work, and the health benefits of fiber are paramount. Every bite we take is an opportunity to make a better choice – hopefully without sacrificing all the tasty snacks we enjoy.
At Rivalz, we’re not just about snacks; we're about empowerment. Understand what truly energizes you, and join us in this tasty, nutritional revolution!
This article has been fact-checked by Dr. Emily Fritz. About Dr. Emily Fritz:
Dr. Emily Fritz earned her M.S. and Ph.D. at South Dakota State University in Exercise, Nutrition and Food Science. Emily joins Rivalz from her role as VP of Scientific Affairs at the Beachbody Company and is passionate about advancing scientific discovery for companies leading the way in human health and nutrition. In addition to her commercial work, she has authored, presented, and collaborated on many research studies ranging from large National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies to leading student research projects during her time as an Assistant Professor at Simpson College in Indianola, IA.