Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Gloria Halim


What's the Deal With Carbohydrates?

Posted: 06/11/2012 00:00

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.

Check out my blog for some healthy recipes that will nourish you and get you started, or for more information and to contact me, please visit my website.

Peace and good health!


Also on HuffPost UK Lifestyle:

Here are unusual (and slightly bizarre) things that could be making you gain weight...

Loading Slideshow...
  • Unlikely Things That Are Making You Fat

  • Snooping

    Research by psychotherapist Dawn Billings discovered that snooping at your partners phone or Facebook can lead to piling on the pounds. Billings claims that if you find something you didn't want to see, the stress of it all triggers the cortisol hormone, which interferes with the appetite-regulating hormone, letin. This can lead to an increase in hunger, making us lean towards emotional food binges.

  • Shampoo

    Scientists from the <a href="http://www.mountsinai.org/" target="_hplink">Mount Sinai Medical Center</a> claim that phthalates, the chemicals found in 70% of cosmetics including shampoo, throw the body's weight control system off kilter. These chemicals are also linked to depressing testosterone levels in the body, which can increase the risk of weight gain

  • Your Personality

    Recent research by the<a href="http://www.nia.nih.gov/" target="_hplink"> National Institute of Aging</a> found people who are highly emotional, organised and disciplined are more likely to be overweight. They also found that impulsive people have higher BMI's than those who are more relaxed and laid back.

  • Spanx

    Although its sole purpose is to disguise any unsightly lumps or bumps, it could give wearers a false sense of security, meaning they ditch diets as they know their pair of <a href="http://www.spanx.com/home/index.jsp" target="_hplink">Spanx</a> knickers will hold in their muffin top.

  • Diet Drinks

    Those who guzzle diet fizzy drinks in the false hope that they're being healthier than drinking the full fat version, are still at risk of gaining weight. According to a study by the <a href="http://www.utexas.edu/" target="_hplink">University of Texas</a>, people who drink diet drinks see their waistbands expand 70% faster than those who drank normal fizzy drinks. This is because they believe they can drink more because of its lower calorie-count.

  • Your Boyfriend

    Falling in love can make you fat, research by the <a href="http://www.uconn.edu/" target="_hplink">University of Connecticut</a> has discovered. Otherwise known as the 'boyfriend layer', when a relationship becomes more established, couples tend to relax their fitness regime, eat out more - and eat more food. This is because new couples 'bond' over food and spend a lot of time doing sedentary things, like lounging on the sofa or in bed.

  • Work

    Women who are fed up at work are more likely to comfort eat, a study by the <a href="http://www.umassmed.edu/index.aspx" target="_hplink">University of Massachusetts Medical School</a> has found. Those who are hacked off with their everyday routine find comfort in 'emotional eating' when stressed and anxious rather than eating when hungry.

  • Your Bed

    Lack of sleep disrupts the body's natural circadian pattern, which controls moods, alertness and appetite over a 24-hour period. If this is altered, it causes an imbalance in the leptin hormone (the hormone that tells us when we're full) and the ghrelin hormone (the hormone that tells us when we need food for energy). If these are out of control for regular periods, it can lead to weight gain.


Follow Gloria Halim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gloriahfhf