When you want to slim down or just eat healthier in general, it’s tempting to try to ditch carbs entirely. After all, we grew up in an Atkins diet-loving world, and its carb-free philosophy somehow managed to stick with us throughout the years. But here’s the thing: You need carbs (the good, healthy ones, at least). Your body depends on them to function properly. Here, Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet, takes you through the reasons whole grains, fruits, and veggies aren’t an optional part of your eating plan.
THEY HELP YOUR BRAIN WORK BETTER
This one is huge, and we can’t emphasise it enough: Your brain needs carbs to function properly. “That’s because your brain runs on glucose, and you get glucose from carbs,” says Gans. “If you don’t have enough of them, your ability to think, learn, and remember stuff will decrease because neurotransmitters in your brain will not have enough glucose to synthesise properly.”
THEY HELP REDUCE BLOATING
“Good carbohydrates, like whole grains and fruits and veggies, contain a lot of fibre—and fibre helps keep your bowel movements regular,” says Gans. That means that you’re less likely to feel puffy because your body will naturally eliminate waste more efficiently.
THEY MAKE YOU HAPPIER
There’s definitely some truth to the old “pasta makes anything better” adage. Why? Most carbohydrates contain tryptophan, which helps produce the feel-good hormone serotonin in your brain. “Without enough tryptophan—and therefore serotonin—you’re more likely to get depressed and have sleeping difficulties,” says Gans.
THEY GIVE YOU ENERGY
Think about trying to run a car without gasoline; it’d be pretty hard, right? That’s basically what happens when you try to run your body without carbs, says Gans. “Carbs are fuel for your body because they contain glucose, which is your body’s number one source of energy,” she says. “Protein and fat work, too, but carbs are definitely number one.”
THEY CONTAIN GOOD-FOR-YOU VITAMINS
Whole grains contains lots of B vitamins, which help your body make energy from food and help you make red blood cells, says Gans. And fruits and veggies, of course, are loaded with essential nutrients like vitamins B and C.
THEY HELP PREVENT HEART DISEASE
Sure, you may be worrying more about a broken heart than heart disease right now—but that doesn’t mean your long-term health isn’t affected by decisions you make now. “Research shows that whole-grain carbs, like breads and pastas and rice, help reduce your chance of heart disease and lower your cholesterol levels,” says Gans.
THEY JUST TASTE GOOD
Face it: Most people love carbs because they’re delicious. “And if you banish anything from your diet, you’re more tempted to binge on it later,” says Gans. “So why deprive yourself of a delicious and healthy thing?”