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The Truth About Carbohydrates

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From the Atkins Diet to the Dukan plan and every diet in between, people are increasingly learning that carbohydrates are the anti-christ when it comes to weight loss, but is this the case? Just 10 years ago the mainstream message was that fat made you fat, but this idea has increasingly lost much of its potency in recent times.

Now, like all messages carrying such a definitive conclusion, there is partial truth, but it is never absolute. Although carbohydrates can be prohibitive to your body composition goals, they are necessary to ensure optimum function. The question is which ones should you be eating, and which ones should you be avoiding like the plague.

"Low carb plans do work for most people, but not all carbohydrates were created equal".
When we look at reducing the carbohydrate content in our diet we have to ensure we do so intelligently. To help you make this decision, I have divided them into several categories to enable you to choose the right carbohydrates and avoid the wrong ones.

THE GREAT

The undisputed kings of the carbohydrate family are very low starch leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach and watercress.

These Dark green, leafy vegetables are nutrient dense and calorie light and belong to the fibrous carbohydrate family. You can eat as many as you like without concern for your weight as they cost more energy to digest and utilize than the calories they contain.

If you install green vegetables as the mainstay of your diet you will be well on your way to weight loss as well as keeping your skin healthy, digestive system functioning and metabolizing stubborn fat for energy.

Action - Eat as many as you like, whenever, wherever.

THE VERY GOOD

Low starch vegetable carbohydrates like mushrooms, peppers, sugar snap peas, cucumber, squash, water chestnut, swiss chard and tomatoes.

It would be hard to overdose on these guys, and because they are full of fiber they keep you fuller for longer.
Another member of the fibrous carbohydrate family, these vegetables will have a negligible effect on blood glucose levels whilst being full of the key vitamins, minerals and nutrients required for optimal health. It would be hard to overdose on these guys, and because they are full of fiber, eaten alongside green leafy vegetables, they keep you fuller for longer.

Action - Eat whenever, wherever but with some regard for quantity.

THE GOOD

Lentils, chickpeas, beans and sprouts, winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, Yams and carrots.

These foods are tremendously healthy, but are not great for weight loss as they have higher starch content and a more significant impact on your blood glucose levels.

They do contain many essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins, as well as high fibrous content, but unless you are in a maintenance phase they should be limited to after exercise or only two times per week.

Action - If you are happy with your weight levels you can eat these in moderation with almost every meal. If weight loss is your goal, save for post workout meals and avoid for initial phase of a plan.

THE SOMETIMES GOOD

Before you jump on me for not putting fruit in with the great and the good, you must appreciate this list is written specifically with weight loss in mind, not general health.

When it comes to weight loss, fruit represents a similar challenge to all sugar carbohydrates as the fructose they contain will spike your insulin levels, causing excess sugar in the bloodstream to be stored as fat. See Blood sugar blog for more info.

If you must consume fruit in a weight loss phase, the best time would be post workout when your muscles are more receptive to the effects of insulin and will more likely benefit from the sugar rush.

Fruit is very healthy, and two to three portions a day in any maintenance phase would be recommended, but cannot be seen in the same positive light as vegetables when discussing body composition.

The best options for fruit are dark skinned berries and apples. Should you consume fruit make sure it is in its whole form and not as a drink, where over 50% of the fiber is lost in the juicing process.

Action- Eat post workout and with nuts or other protein to negate insulin response.

GOOD, BUT NOT FOR EVERYBODY.

Unrefined, natural whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley, rye millet and spelt, are arguably an excellent source of carbohydrates for energy and are packed full of fiber, vitamins and phyto-nutrients but they possess more inherent problems than other high starch options.

A large school of nutritionists and Paleo diet enthusiasts believe grains are not as easily digestible by humans as starchy vegetables such as sweet potato and turnip, based on the limited availability during the evolution of our digestive tract. I would suggest this is very much individual dependent and certainly not a hard and fast rule, but needs to be considered.

The grain that needs to be treated with the most caution is wheat, which contains gluten. In our experience between 60% and 80% of the population are gluten intolerant. Gluten can also be detected in oats and rye so choose a gluten free option.

Action - Eat them but pay close attention for negative symptoms such as headaches, nausea and digestive issues, especially where gluten is concerned. When it comes to weight loss, as they are a starchy carbohydrate, affecting blood sugar, caution should be taken.

THE FAIRLY BAD

Whole-wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, rye bread, oat-cakes, rice cakes other grain based processed carbs.

This category is possibly the most misunderstood section and the reason why many who think they are eating well fail to achieve health goals.

These foods are refined, processed and offer surprisingly few health benefits. They do score points for being better alternatives to foods like white bread and bagels which sit on the very hard edge of unsuitability for weight loss and body composition.

My biggest gripe with these options is the health food stores continuing to sell them as fantastically healthy options when they are anything but. If you want healthy foods, consume those which can be bought in a natural state, not processed foods well marketed in fancy packaging.

Action - Eat occasionally, but do not make the mainstay of your diet.

THE UGLY

White bread, cakes, dairy chocolate, Ice cream, donuts and MOST breakfast cereals fall into this category.

When it comes to weight loss AND general health these are the foods you must stay away from.
There will be no surprises here and the list in quite simple. Foods which contains white sugar, white flour or both often contain MSG, additives and preservatives, which play havoc with your endocrine system and digestive health.

When it comes to weight loss AND general health these are the foods you must stay away from.

Action - Eat as a treat if you must, but always remember they have zero nutritional value and should never form the basis of a healthy, balanced diet.

CONCLUSION

For those who have blood sugar issues and/or difficulty losing weight it is generally best to avoid all carbohydrates with the exception of the fibrous kind. For those who wish to maintain general health but have no issues with excess weight starchy carbohydrates in natural state such as legumes, root vegetables and whole grains should be consumed regularly and in moderation.

Every processed or refined carbohydrate should not be considered healthy and at no stage should form the backbone of your diet.

Around the Web

BBC - Health: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates | Bupa UK

About carbohydrate - Diabetes UK

Starchy foods (carbs) - Live Well - NHS Choices

Diet of carbohydrates can help you lose weight | Mail Online

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