Why should I be aware of this?
Carbs are not all bad. The recent prominence of low carbohydrate diets have created the wrong impression that carbohydrates cause weight gain. Similar to fats, there are good carbs and bad carbs and it is the bad carbs which are responsible for weight gains. Fruits and vegetables are good carbs and provide an important source of required nutrients.
How does this affect me?
- Carbohydrates are the most easily accessible energy source for the human body. When consumed they are converted into glucose, which is then used for energy by the muscles and the brain.
- A good carbohydrate intake enables muscles to work harder throughout a workout helping to burn more calories and maintain weight.
- When eaten in excessive quantities, carbohydrates cause weight gain. After eating carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose to help fuel the cells. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles, but these body parts can only store a certain amount of glucose. Remaining glucose is stored as fat in certain areas of the body.
- Many health experts feel that excessive carbohydrate intake is linked with an increased risk for type II diabetes.
All about carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are typically classed as ‘complex’ carbs, which include starches and fibre, and ‘simple’ carbs, which include sugars and starches that have been commercially processed to the point that they have almost been broken down into sugars already.
Simple carbohydrates are easy to digest and rapidly convert into glucose after consumption and then enter the bloodstream. Which is why people who need instant energy often enjoy something sweet; consuming simple carbohydrates is often accompanied by an instant lift in mood.
Simple carbs can either be found in natural form or in a processed form. Simply speaking natural carbs are good carbs and processed carbs are bad carbs. The more processed the carb product, the worse it is for our health.
Fruits such as apple, cherry, kiwi, lemon, orange, blackberry, melon, blackcurrent, pear, grapefruit, peach, plum, raspberry and cranberry are good carbs. These are natural simple carbs -- they are low in simple sugars and do not result in weight gain.
Soft drinks, tinned fruit, cakes, table sugar, fudge, candy, jam, toffee, plain biscuits, gum, mint, boiled sweets, chutney and pickles are examples of bad carbs. For those who want to lose weight, these are strictly off limits.
- They contain little nutritional benefit.
- Since they can be broken down quickly in the body, they actually cause us to feel hungry faster. Health care experts blame the rising obesity rates on the increase in bad carbohydrates in our daily diets.
- A meal of simple carb is followed by an immediate rise in insulin levels which helps in stacking the glucose from simple carbs into the body's cells. Once this task is completed, an abrupt drop in blood sugar is experienced. This can be accompanied by shaking, dizziness and ravenous hunger - even though the person has eaten quite recently. People prone to eat simple carbs, probably grab for more of the same, starting a vicious cycle of sorts.
- As a thumb rule, avoid processed foods that contain lots of added sugar, as they are most high in calories.
Complex carbs contain long chains of sugar units. They have a characteristically starchy taste and, unlike sugars, are typically found in foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre - like vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods and even some protein. Because of these additional nutrients, the body takes a longer time to digest them. Since the cells can only take so much glucose at once, insulin also aids the conversion of the excess glucose into fat, so it can be stored.
Because of this, people who eat a lot of simple carbs have typically higher insulin levels, and produce and store fat more quickly and efficiently. The most common sources of complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains and vegetables. These include foods such as barley, beans, brown rice, chickpeas, corn, lentils, legumes, nuts, oats, roots and vegetables.
- Not all complex carbs are good carbs. Some such as baked potatoes, an example of complex carbs causes a huge rise in blood sugar. These are not recommended during weight loss.
- To lose weight include complex carbs such as wheatgerm, bran, buckwheat, oatmeal, cornmeal, maize and barley in your diet.
What can I do about it?
Daily carbohydrate intake
- The diet of an average person should have a large proportion of carbohydrate. The proportion increases for those who exercise frequently.
- Carbohydrate intake should account for 60% of total daily energy.
- Most of this should be in the form of complex carbohydrates from natural low calorie sources like grains, cereals and vegetables.
- The best way to provide the diet with complex carbohydrates is to consume foods in their most natural state such as oatmeal, bran and brown rice.
Healthy living with carbohydrates
- A healthy breakfast of wholegrain bread or cereal and fruit is really an ideal start to a day.
- Lunch and dinner should be a balanced diet of carbohydrates and proteins. It is ideal to go in for a combination of complex carbohydrates such as a potato, wholegrain or brown bread or brown rice, and a helping of vegetables along with proteins such as a meat or fish dish, or lentils. Ending a meal with fruit ensures one gets some healthy simple carbohydrates as well. A golden rule is to stick to twice the portion of carbohydrates to a portion of protein.
- Avoid refined white flour products such as white bread, pizza, white pasta and rice. The refining process produces simple carbohydrates and takes away many vitamins and minerals.
Tips For Eating Good Carbohydrates
- Buy whole meal or whole wheat bread.
- Avoid white bread and breads which do not list whole grain as the first ingredients.
- Choose whole grain versions of rice, pastas, breads and cereals over the refined flour.
- Check labels on processed foods for their fat and calorie content. As a rule of thumb if the product has more than 15 grams of fat in 100 grams of product then it should be limited or a much smaller portion consumed.
- Combine your meal of carbohydrate with vegetables, lentils and fruit.
- Eat the skin on apples, pears and potatoes.
- If you have to use refined flour, then mix it with whole grain flour, with whole grain accounting for 40% if not more of the total flour.
- Whenever possible soak whole grain in acidulated water prior to cooking to gain the maximum benefits.
- Use stone pressed organic flour from your neighbourhood natural food store.
- Some people struggling to lose weight may benefit from a low carbohydrate intake, but much of the initial loss is possibly made up of fluid loss from cells.
- A low carbohydrate diet can make people feel lazy.
- Many processed foods high in carbohydrates also tend to have a high fat and calorie content. For example, potatoes are low in calories and a great source of complex carbohydrate, however potatoes are also the main ingredient in hash browns from McDonalds yet "weight for weight" they contain more fat and calories than a cheeseburger or Big Mac!
- When planning your carbohydrate intake you should try to consume fresh natural foods and ingredients.
References and Useful Websites
- The role of carbohydrates within the body
- Harvard School of Public Health -- carbohydrates
- Medical Encyclopedia -- Carbohydrates
- The Real Deal on Carbohydrates