I hear quite a lot of people say they would like to reduce or cut out carbohydrate from their diet or they are starting one of those carb-free fad diets to lose weight. When I ask why, the common answer is that carbs are not good for you because they make you fat. I know people are entitled to their own opinions and ideas but I'd like them to have the necessary information to enable them make an informed choice before embarking on these diets - and there are a lot of fad diets out in the world that encourage eliminating carbohydrates.
So, what are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are an ideal source of energy for the body obtained from food. They provide much of the energy needed for normal body functions such as heartbeat, digestion and exercise. This is because they can be readily converted into glucose which is a form of sugar that can be transported and used by the body. A diet high in carbohydrates can cause an imbalance in the body's blood sugar level, which results in changes in energy and mood which leave you tired and irritated but that depends on the type of carbohydrates being eaten.
There are two types of carbohydrates and we need to understand the difference between them - we have simple and complex carbohydrates.
Most simple carbohydrates are highly processed, contain refined sugars and have very few vitamins and minerals. Processed foods contain short chains of sugars which enter the bloodstream almost immediately after ingesting them. This then causes a rapid rise in glucose levels in the body (commonly known as "sugar rush"). The rush is ultimately followed by a crash at least a couple of hours later, depending on the individual. The body interprets the high level of sugar as an emergency state and works hard to burn it up quickly, after which the blood sugar level drops rapidly. Natural foods like fruits contain naturally occurring simple sugars - the difference is that fruits also have a high fibre content which helps slow down digestion, limiting the amount of sugars that flow into the bloodstream.
Complex carbohydrates appear naturally in foods like vegetables and whole grains. Complex carbs contain long chains of sugar which are bound within the food's fibre. The body processes this form of sugar by breaking the chains and releasing the fibre into the body slowly which means the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream at a steady pace for many hours, providing energy for longer.
So for example, if you have oatmeal for breakfast, you will find that you will feel fuller for longer and would not get hungry until about lunchtime. Whereas, if you have white bread or cereal bars for breakfast, you will find you'll get a burst of energy for a while and shortly after, you feel that dip in energy and feel hungry sooner.
We can find carbohydrates in everything from chocolate bars and biscuits to vegetables and whole grains. Here's the thing, we need to understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates and be able to identify where we find or get them from.
To distinguish between them, simple carbohydrates are found in most processed foods and foods that contain high amounts of refined sugar while complex carbohydrates are obtained from natural food sources like grains and vegetables. Keep in mind though that fruits also contain simple sugars, but as mentioned earlier, because they are very high in fibre, the amount of sugar that flows into the cells is limited.
Simple sugars can lead to weight gain because our cells don't require large amounts of glucose at one time, and extra sugar is then stored in the adipose tissues as fat. So if you want to lose weight fast, switch from simple to complex carbohydrates. By doing so, you will not only lose weight, but you will improve your health as well.
Plant foods are so low in calories that they force the body to burn its own fat. The best diet to be on is a diet that is balanced in carbohydrates, protein, fibre and a little healthy fat like olive oils, nuts and avocados.
I do hope this article clears up the carbohydrate confusion and will help you make an informed choice in creating a healthy diet that feeds and nourishes you. We are all individuals, which is why no one diet suits everyone - we all metabolise differently. Experiment with yourself and try to find a diet that works for you.
Peace and good health!
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