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    13 Things You Should Know Before You Decide To Limit Your Carbs

    Pass the bagels.

    Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

    BuzzFeed Life consulted two experts for this story: Dr. Holly Lofton, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Medical Center, and Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition.

    1. First let's talk about what carbs actually are.

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    Simply put, carbohydrates are sugars that our body uses for energy. Carbohydrates fuel everything we do, from thinking and other mental tasks to anything we do with our bodies — walking, twiddling our thumbs, or going hard in a workout. Eating carbs is like putting fuel into your body's gas tank.

    The carbs we eat are made usable as energy by the digestive system, which breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, the sugar in blood that powers the cells in our brains and bodies.

    2. You should eat carbs (and be wary of advice to avoid to them).

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    St. Pierre and Lofton believe that one of the biggest misconceptions about carbs is that they're inherently bad for you, particularly when it comes to weight management. St. Pierre says that not only are carbs important for giving you energy and keeping your body functioning properly — from keeping cortisol in check to helping to regulating the thyroid — but they're not inherently unhealthy or even fattening.

    In fact, Lofton says that carbs are important especially if you're trying to keep your weight in check with diet and/or exercise, because avoiding carbs altogether can leave you without energy to work out or lead to cravings, which in turn results in bingeing on or overeating other foods.

    If you have specific body-composition goals, check out some of BuzzFeed Life's recent reporting on fat loss, gaining muscle, and burning calories.

    3. If you're interested in weight management, have most of your carbs earlier in the day.

    4. And if you exercise, time your carbs around your workouts for optimal energy.

    5. There are two kinds of carbs: simple and complex.

    6. Carbohydrates should make up about half of your daily calories.

    7. And most of those should be complex carbs.

    8. Identify complex carbs by checking the label for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

    9. The other super-important thing to know about carbs is how processed they are.

    The less processed the carbohydrate, the better it is for you. So when it comes to corn, eating the vegetable off the cob is most nutritious (and least processed) option, while a corn tortilla is relatively more processed and less nutritious; and corn syrup is the most processed and least nutritious.

    We'll use grains as an example of why less-processed carbs are better for you. When grains start out they're whole, meaning their component parts like the bran and the germ, which naturally contain nutrients and fiber, are intact. To make whole grains into a finer product with a longer shelf life, the bran and germ — the most valuable (nutrient-wise) parts — are removed. Now the grain is ready to be made into bread, crackers, cereals, pastries, etc., highly processed simple carbs with little nutritional value.

    St. Pierre explains that in addition to lacking the nutrients and fiber present in whole grains, processed food products are more calorically dense and much easier to overeat.

    For example:

    Corn on the cob
    : 123 calories, 29 g carbs

    7 Original Tostitos corn chips: 140 calories, 19 g carbs

    The thing is, most people aren't going to have more than one ear (OK, maybe two) of corn at a time. But for most of us, seven corn tortilla chips is only the very beginning of what we'll snack on in a sitting.

    10. To determine just how processed something is, simply look at the label.

    Generally speaking, the more ingredients something has, the more processed it is, says St. Pierre. And Lofton says that when it comes to grain products, look for the word "whole." This means that the grain has not been stripped of its nutrients for processing.

    11. Beware of anything that is "enriched" with fiber and vitamins.

    12. If you don't want to deal with running the numbers when it comes to carbs and fiber, you can guesstimate.

    St. Pierre explains Precision Nutrition's approach to explaining portions, and it's pretty damn simple: Measure your carb intake with your cupped hand. Basically, men should have two cupped-hand sized portion of carbs with most meals and women should have one. The cupped-hand method is convenient in its portability and its validity — larger people, whose energy needs will probably be higher, have bigger hands, so their cupped portions will be bigger.

    Of course everyone's needs are different — a small percentage of people function well with less or more carbs — and will vary based on a bunch of factors.

    13. Whatever you do, don't go HAM trying to eat ONLY the "best" carbs all the freaking time.

    Now go forth and enjoy carbs!

    Social image from Flickr via hedvigs.