Carbs, Fats, Proteins: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

You may have heard the rumor that not all food is created equal. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this rumor (unlike those nasty high school rumors) is actually true.

This blog serves to break down The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Carbohydrates, Fats, and Proteins. But before we begin, let’s take a look at which foods fall under which category.

Below is a list of sources of carbs, fats, and proteins. Please be aware that this by no means is a complete list. In addition, you’ll notice that some foods are made up of multiple nutrients, such as fruits that are both carbohydrates and fats (avocados and coconut), or dairy that is both protein and fat (cheese, whole milk.)

Source of Carbohydrates:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Potatoes
  • Yams and Squash
  • Beans and Lentils
  • Pastries
  • Crackers and Chips

Source of Fats:

  • Oils (Fish, Olive, Coconut, Vegetable)
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Olives
  • Avocadoes
  • Chia and Flax Seeds
  • Butter
  • Dairy (Whole Milk, Cheese)

Source of Protein:

  • Meat (Chicken, Beef, Pork, Wild Game)
  • Fish
  • Tofu or Tempeh
  • Dairy (Cottage Cheese, Greek Yogurt, Milk)
  • Lentils or Beans
  • Protein Powder
  • Many vegetables (Note: although they are high in protein, you have to eat a LOT to get an adequate amount)

Now that we have an idea of which foods fall under which category, let’s look at each in depth.

Carbohydrates

Ohhhh, the dreaded carbs. If you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably experienced someone telling you via the internet, commercial, or advertisement, that carbs are bad for you and make you gain weight. What they don’t tell you, is that it depends on the kind of carb you eat.

Low carbohydrate diets are popular because they can make you drop weight quickly. However, many people are not actually loosing fat, but rather loosing water weight (at least initially). This is because 1 gram of stored glycogen (sugar) holds 3-4 grams of water. So as you decrease your carbs, you burn this stored glycogen and loose the adjoined water weight. Hence, quick weight loss at the beginning and then less so as time goes on.

That being said, there are carbohydrates that are more likely to cause weight gain and/or decrease weight loss attempts. These carbs are what we call “Simple Carbohydrates.” They are usually processed foods that have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients and jacked up with added sugars and fats. Basically all the good stuff is taken out and a bunch of bad crap is added in. Then to top it off, these foods do little to satisfy and fill your stomach so you end up eating more then you need.

Not a great combination if you ask me.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Carb List

The Good

  • Vegetables

  • Fruits

  • Quinoa

  • Beans and Lentils

  • Potatoes

  • Yams and squash

  • Oatmeal

  • Whole Grain Rice

  • Whole Grain Bread

  • Whole Grain Pasta

The Bad

  • White Rice

  • White Bread

  • White Pasta

  • Crackers and Chips (Minimally Processed)

  • Fruit Juices

  • Some coffees and teas with added sugar and creams

The Ugly

  • Pastries

  • Cookies

  • Sugary Drinks

  • Crackers and Chips (Highly Processed with Added Sugars and Fats)

  • Condiments like Ketchup and BBQ Sauce

  • Anything with High Fructose Corn Syrup in it

Fats

When I was in high school, if it came in a package that said “Fat Free” I was all for it! Fats make you fat, right? Wrong!

                                        

Here are just a few things that healthy fats do:

  • Form cell membranes

  • Form brain and nervous system

  • Balance hormones

  • Help you absorb Vitamins A and D

  • Keep you full between meals

  • Improve body composition

  • Alleviate depression

But what are healthy fats? Well first, we need to learn more about them.

Fats can be either saturated or unsaturated (this is dependent on how their hydrogen ions are aligned). And unsaturated fats can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Furthermore, polyunsaturated fats are either Omega-3’s or Omega-6’s.

That was a lot of big words, so here is a quick breakdown taken directly from the Precision Nutrition website:

Saturated Fats:

  • Animal Fats

  • Tropical Oils (Coconut, Palm, Cacao)

Unsaturated Fats:

  • Monounsaturated

    • Olive Oil

    • Avocadoes

    • Peanuts & Groundnuts

    • Tree Nuts

  • Polyunsaturated

    • Omega-3

      • Flax

      • Fish Oil

    • Omega-6

      • Most Seed Oils (canola, safflower, sunflower)

Hopefully that makes a bit more sense, but wait! There is more! It’s that man-made-monster called trans fats.

These guys are created when companies want to improve the shelf life and “mouth feel” of their products. Basically they add hydrogen to unsaturated fats so that they behave like saturated fats and become solid at room temperature.

Trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and are linked to cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimers.

So they go in the category of “Ugly.”

Saturated fats have also been linked to raising bad cholesterol. However, some have been linked to lowering bad cholesterol and supporting good cholesterol. Basically, the jury is still out on these guys, so I am going to go with Precision Nutrition’s recommendations and keep them to 10% or less of total calories.

Lastly we have those Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fellas. These are the good guys (for the most part). They are the ones that help lower cholesterol, enhance the immune system, decrease blood clotting and inflammation, and lower the risk of chronic diseases.

However, once again, they are not all good. Much of the omega-6 fats we consume come from processed sources and can throw our fat balance out of whack. For example, as hunters and gatherers we used to have an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 1:1. Currently, we are at a ratio of around 16:1. So when consuming polyunsaturated fats, we want to try and get a bit more of the omega-3 and less of the omega 6. An easy way to do this is to avoid a large amount of processed oils and take a fish or algae supplement daily.

You might be thinking, “Ah! This is all so confusing! How do I know what to eat?!”

Don’t worry, all you need to do is try and consume a mixture of whole, unprocessed fats. Below, I have my list of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Notice that there are Saturated and Unsaturated fats in multiple categories. That’s because not all are inherently good or bad.

Side note: Can we come up with a different name for fats? Maybe we can call them “Choochas” or “Bla Blas” or something that doesn’t make us think of chubby kids and overweight construction workers!

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Fat List

The Good

  • Avocados

  • Peanuts and Groundnuts

  • Tree Nuts

  • Seeds (flax, hemp, chia)

  • Fish and seaweed

  • Olives

  • Coconut

  • Pasture-raised and grass-fed meat

  • Cage-free organic eggs

The Bad

  • Refined and processed oil (canola, safflower)

  • Factory Farmed Foods (processed meat, cheese, and butter)

The Ugly

  • Anything with man-made trans fats (Check you labels! Usually this will be processed and packaged foods.)

Protein

Here’s a phrase you don’t hear too often, “You’re eating too much protein!” 

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Protein is used in building and repairing almost every tissue in our bodies. It boosts our metabolism, synthesizes hormones, and aides our immune system. Lastly, it satisfies our hunger and keeps us fuller for a longer period of time.

Basically, it’s a good thing to consume.

However, some protein sources are better than others. If it’s breaded and fried, chances are that it’s pretty high in Ugly Carbs and Fats. If it comes as a powder or bar and contains a bunch of ingredients that you cannot pronounce in addition to added sugars and syrups, it’s not natural and probably won’t give you the usual protein benefits.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Protein list follows closely with the previous Carbohydrate and Fat lists. You want to get your food as close to the original source as possible, with the least amount of added crap. And if it’s got added Ugly Carbs or Fats, it’s an Ugly Protein.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Protein List

The Good

  • Anything that was once living and has been prepared with only Good Carbs or Fats
    • *Extra Credit for Organic or Free-Range
  • Protein powders with limited ingredients and added sugar or syrups
  • Minimally processed and lower fat yogurt, milk, or cottage cheese with no added sugar
  • Minimally processed tofu or tempeh
  • Minimally processed lentils or beans

The Bad

  • Anything that was once living and has been prepared with Bad Carbs or Fats
  • Protein powders or bars with added sugar, syrups, and other additives
  • Yogurt, milk, or cottage cheese with higher fat and sugar content
  • Processed fake meats (tofurky, tofu hot dogs, etc.)
  • Lentils or beans with added sugars, syrups, or Bad Fats

The Ugly

  • Anything that was once living and has been prepared with Ugly Carbs or Fats
  • Protein powders or bars that have High Fructose Corn Syrup in them, or the same sugar count as candy bars
  • Fake meats that have been prepared with Ugly Carbs or Fats (tofu chicken nuggets, etc.)
  • High fat, high sugar, and highly processed milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese

There you have it! Use these lists to make better decisions, and know that you can and should treat yourself to some Bad and Ugly Carbs, Fats or Proteins once in a while! Personally, I eat “Good” throughout the week. On the weekend, I treat myself to some “Bad” and on special occasions, I indulge in some “Ugly.”  I also make sure that my fridge and cabinets are stored with mostly “Good!”

I hope that this will make you aware of your choices so that you eat a bit more of the Good and bit less of the Bad 😉

Check out the Nutrition Solution to learn about a program that can transform your body for life!

*The information from this article can be sourced back to research and studies through Precision Nutrition.

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