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Honestly, who could resist my mother-in-law’s fresh baked sourdough bread with melted butter or her secret Freckle Cookie recipe? Not me! Yes, I’m talking about some of the best carbohydrate-rich foods around. Although we must indulge wisely our bodies do need energy and nothing beats homemade.

Carbohydrates are macro-nutrients our bodies need in large quantities for optimal function. Carbs include everything from breads, pastas, whole grains, cereals, fruits, some veggies, cakes, pastries and sweets. Although some carbs are better for you than others, the human body requires anywhere from 55-60% of our daily intake in the form of carbs. Each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories.

When choosing carbohydrate-rich foods the best options are always whole grains such as quinoa, rice, couscous, millet and oats. The best breads and cereals are those made from whole grains that contain at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving. Rice pasta or whole grain pasta is also a better option than white pasta. By doing your own baking you can control everything from the type of flour you use to the amount of sugar, salt and fat you add. The key thing to remember is that if it’s white it is likely refined and does not contain nearly the amount of nutrients and fiber as its whole grain counterpart.

In recent years carbohydrates have been given a bad rap. With the drastic increase in obesity “experts” have looked at reducing carbs as a way of helping people lose unwanted weight. Although crash diets like Atkins or South Beach provide people with a temporary fix and aid in weight loss, omitting carbohydrates over the long haul is detrimental to our bodies. By eliminating foods high in carbs you are also putting your body at risk for deficiencies- not to mention that people begin to increase their intake of meat and dairy (cholesterol and fat) to replace the unwanted bread, which can make you more susceptible to illness.

Carbohydrates provide our bodies with a long list of nutrients like fiber, folate, and Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. They also help with circulatory, immune and endocrine function as well as cell repair and growth. Not many people are aware that our brains use only carbohydrates to operate. That means that without an adequate intake our brains are essentially starving for fuel. Not only do our brains need the rich energy we get from whole grains, fruits and veggies but our muscles do as well. The best pre-workout meal (eaten 1/2 hour to 45 minutes before exercise) is one that is high in carbohydrates like a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread or a fruit smoothie with 1/2 scoop of protein powder, milk and frozen berries. Believe it or not, your body needs carbs to burn fat. It may sound weird but in order to reach your fat stores you need energy to produce the physical output that in turn burns the fat.

Although cutting back on certain foods can have definite benefits, each person’s needs are different depending on their goals. The thing to keep in mind is that carbs are not the enemy- it’s the type of carbs you choose. Make as many meals at home as you can, chose whole grains as often as possible and develop a positive relationship with your carbs!

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