Carbohydrates 101: How to Maintain Healthy Energy Levels

Carbohydrates: 101

When I initially started my health journey, I began the way many of us do. I steered clear of refined sugars like the plague and cut carbohydrates in an effort to lose weight. Well, let’s just say I cut too much. I lost weight but I also found myself feeling incredibly tired all the time despite my progress on the scale. What I didn’t realize is that carbohydrates are essential to maintain healthy energy and blood sugar levels within our bodies.  And when incorporated as part of a healthy diet, they actually aid in achieving a healthy weight.

In this interview, I’ve teamed up with Alex Price, founder and CEO of Daily Nourishment Alliance Holistic Health and Nutrition Coaching, where she works with clients to create healing plans based on nutrient-dense whole foods. Her philosophy? Skip the list of restricted “good and bad foods.” Instead, focus on understanding the food and lifestyle choices that work best for you.

Join me as Alex gives us the real scoop on carbohydrates, and how they impact our energy, balance and health.

To kick things off, tell me about the moment you first discovered the connection between food and health…

Alex: When I was very young, I would help my grandmother weed our little garden during summer vacations. We had our own herbs, berries and some root vegetables. As a child, it was very exciting to see our little garden grow. We had fresh vegetables, herbs, berries and mushrooms all summer long and we’d dry or preserve extra for the winter. My grandmother used to say, “Let’s preserve some vitamins for the winter.” When I was a child I never had a cold nor a flu, and never missed school. My grandmother would always say that our garden gave me the boost to stay healthy all year long.

So, you were introduced early on to the benefits of eating healthy! Did you find it easy to maintain this foundation, or were there setbacks?

Alex: As an adult, I moved many times with my family, and our lives changed in so many ways. Fresh food wasn’t always available, there wasn’t enough time to cook our own meals, my husband and I were busy with our family, careers. As a result, my health wasn’t as I wanted it to be. I was gaining weight, I had terrible migraines at least twice a week, my sleep wasn’t restful, my body ached and my joints cracked with the slightest movement. I knew it was time for a change. I had to educate myself all over again on the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Complex Carbohydrates

Yes, this is a challenge that many of us face. After completing your education, where did you begin?

Alex: My family was my first client. It was a fun experiment to use the knowledge and experience I’d gained during my years of study. I have reintroduced fresh foods into our diet, taken the time to cook my family’s meals and paid very close attention to our stress levels and lifestyle.  In doing so, my husband and I both lost weight, our muscles don’t cramp up anymore, our joints are more flexible and my migraines are gone along with other health problems.

That’s remarkable and really illustrates the important role that food plays in our life when it comes to healing.

Alex: Food is fuel, food is medicine. Your body needs fresh foods every day to work to its fullest potential.

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food”.  We as humans knew this all along. We just got distracted and needed a reminder to go back to our roots. Literally and figuratively speaking. 🙂

Yes, this is true :).  Let’s talk about this a bit. A lot of people are afraid to eat carbohydrates, but they play an important role when it comes to our health.

Alex: Absolutely. Not all carbs are created equally. There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are turned to glucose (blood sugar).

However, with complex carbohydrates, not only will you be getting natural sugars for energy in your foods (found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains), you will also get an array of vitamins, minerals and fibers while consuming it, which is beneficial to your health.

Just to be clear, how do you define a simple carbohydrate and what are some examples?

Alex: In contrast to complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates have none of the minerals nor vitamins found in Nature’s food.

These foods are usually highly processed and have no nutritional value. Foods like white breads, pastas, sweets, carbonated beverages and baked goods. For example, a large marshmallow equals about 100 calories; so does a small orange. Both foods are considered carbohydrates, the first one however has no nutritional value, but the second one will give you a boost of vitamin C that protects your immunity. Would you choose the first or second one?

Refined Carbs

I’m going to go with the second one, yes? 🙂

Alex: Yes. For your best health, I recommend incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables (such as complex carbohydrates) as much as possible into your diet. You can lose weight, provide your body with more energy, fuel your body with essential vitamins/minerals and improve your overall health.

Let’s talk about the importance of complex carbohydrates when it comes to weight management.

Alex: Simple and refined carbs like white pastas, breads, rice, sweets and baked goods quickly convert to sugar within the body, leaving you feeling hungry and tired. Because simple carbs are used for energy, none of the “fuel” gets into your cells. Some is used for energy but most of it is stored as fat, which in return leaves you hungry and craving more sugary foods. Did you know that sugar is as addictive as cocaine?

On the contrary, whole grains, vegetables and fruits contain natural fibers that slow down digestion and prevent body-fat storage. The body stays fueled and burns fat all day long without your usual sugar-highs and lows associated with consuming refined carbs, which in return will balance your blood sugar levels and aid you in preventing diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

Whole Grains

And how do carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels overall?

Alex: Carbs can raise your blood sugar levels more than any other nutrient, since our body will try to utilize them first. When we consume carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down into sugar, which enters the blood.

To digest the sugar, the pancreas needs to produce insulin, a hormone that helps cells to absorb it for energy or fat storage. Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and won’t raise your blood sugar to unhealthy levels. Simple carbohydrates break down faster than complex carbohydrates and will begin to raise your blood sugar levels very soon after consuming them.

Got it! Now, I know the glycemic index is a tool used to help with this. Can you give readers an overview of the glycemic index and how it can help?

Alex: According to the Harvard Medical School, the glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly and how quickly those foods cause increase in blood glucose levels. There are foods that are low or high on the glycemic index (GI). Foods low on the glycemic index (complex carbohydrates) release glucose slowly and steadily, and help you lose weight.

Foods that are high on the glycemic index (simple carbohydrates) will release glucose rapidly and may increase your health risks.

People with diabetes cannot produce enough insulin to process blood sugar, so low glycemic foods are helpful in keeping blood glucose under control. As for people without diabetes, low-glycemic foods may help to avoid diabetes all together.

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for workouts. Is it best to focus on simple or complex carbohydrates for energy? Or perhaps a balance?

Alex: Simple carbohydrates may interfere with body’s ability to burn and metabolize fat. Simple carbohydrates or refined sugars may also decrease the body’s energy level needed for prolonged workouts (sugar highs and lows). Complex carbohydrates will give you the energy needed both during and after your workout and keep your blood levels under control.

I recommend a balance. Eating healthy proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates will help your body build muscles, burn fat and repair sore or damaged tissues after a workout.

Refined Sugars and Energy.

You’ve given us a lot of valuable information today, thank you so much! Where can readers with additional questions find you online?

Alex: I can be found at DailyNourishmentAlliance.org, where I help my clients achieve their health goals including weight loss, improved digestion, stress reduction and exercise through an individual planning of completely personalized blueprint to health that suits their unique body, lifestyle, preferences, and goals. I also share healthy recipes and ideas on Instagram @dna_healing_foods.

Carbohydrates 101: How to Maintain Healthy Energy Levels
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Also published on Medium.

  • Really interesting read! Thanks for sharing!! There’s a lot of different viewpoints when it comes to carbs, when to eat them, and what kind. A lot of people say that simple carbs are best before a workout because they will be directly used as glycogen for energy (like fruits). I think every person is different and you got to find what works best for you 🙂

    • oloxir

      Absolutely, bananas are a great example of this! It’s important to be open to finding what works best for you. Glad you enjoyed the interview 🙂