The Leader of the Pack: Carbohydrates
Thanks to diet culture, carbs are often thought of as optional. In reality, glucose from carbohydrate is the body’s main source of energy. Carbs are used by every cell in the body, and are the only source of fuel the brain can use. Because the brain uses about 20 percent of the body’s energy, your body has a high demand for carbohydrate, even when it is at rest – your body may not be moving, but your brain is always hard at work (unless you’re dead, which if you’re reading this, presumably you are not).
Current dietary guidelines recommend that approximately 45 to 65 percent of energy intake should come from carbohydrates. That’s right – it’s carbs, the most demonized of nutrients, that most people should be eating the greatest quantity of.
Because the body and brain have a high need for glucose from carbohydrate, your body has built-in systems that make sure it’s getting enough. If you’re not, it’ll let you know, often through intense hunger, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts about food. Just think about how you feel when your blood sugar is low: dizzy, shaky, fatigued, and very ready to demolish a box of cookies.
To satisfy your body’s carbohydrate needs and plan a satisfying meal, include a carbohydrate source. While there are smaller amounts of carbohydrates in a lot of foods, for meal planning purposes I generally recommend including a source of carbs from one of the following foods:
Grains – anything made with flour (i.e. bread, pasta, baked goods, tortillas, cereals, crackers, pretzels, etc), rice, quinoa, oats, corn, millet, teff, barley, buckwheat, etc.
Beans and pulses – black beans, chickpeas, lentils, butter beans, pinto beans, etc.
Starchy vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, parsnips, etc.