Carbohydrates, better known as ‘carbs’ are probably the most important food group for humans. Despite it’s importance, it is a controversial food group and has been associated with ‘mixed messages’ in the media. Additionally, carbohydrates are often attacked by ‘diet’ experts as being the cause of weight gain, obesity and chronic diseases (Despite humans consuming carbohydrates for centuries). In some ways, studies have discovered that this is somewhat ‘true’, but it is misleading at the same time and you’ll find out why later.
What scientists don’t understand, is that the general public don’t understand the differences between sugar, starch and fibre (the types of carbohydrates). As a result, they will read ‘Carbohydrates are bad for you’ and will cut carbohydrates out of their diet all together in order to ‘lose weight’. Thus we have the Atkins, Dukan and South Beach Diet. What these scientists forget to mention, is that they are only talking about a specific type of carbohydrate (sugar) when they say that ‘carbohydrates are bad’…and that’s where I come in.
Similar to fat and protein (Protein – The basics) carbohydrates are another example of a macronutrient (meaning that we must consume large quantities within our diet). These macronutrients are absorbed by the body and converted into energy (glucose) and stored as glycogen in our muscles (to use later). We must consume more carbohydrates in comparison to fat and protein, because the body is able to store carbohydrates as glycogen within our muscle and liver and re-use easily when we require energy. For example, we need energy to breathe, get out of bed in the morning, to walk downstairs and go to work.
Imagine the UK’s eat well plate, carbohydrates take up it’s own large section. This demonstrates that carbohydrates should take up a large percentage of our diet (approx. 50%). The smallest section on this plate, is of course confectionary; this is what we need to limit (NOT necessarily eliminate) in our eating habits. The reason why I am calling it confectionary and not sugary products, is because fruit is also a type of sugar (fructose), but should not be confused with sugar that is used to create sweets and chocolate. This, is an example of how wording is confusing.
I feel that part of the problem is; the term sugar is used for multiple, completely different food products and this leaves people unsure and unclear. The reason why it is rather difficult to say to the public ‘Carbohydrates are bad if you’ is because of the range of foods that are under the category ‘carbohydrates’. Are carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables and milk the cause of weight gain and obesity, I personally don’t think so; do you? So let’s make our own statement up…Processed sugary foods and sugary drinks leads to weight gain, sounds better doesn’t it? It is now clearer as to what food products we are talking about.
For those who have noticed, fruit and veg is separate to carbohydrates, which is confusing isn’t it? Because fruit and veg is an example of a carbohydrate as I have just previously mentioned. Well, the reason why they are separate, is because fruits and vegetables are SO good for you. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which our bodies need to function. Therefore, we need to consume as many pieces of fruit and veg every single day. So that, is why it too, has it’s own large section. This, is another example on how carbohydrates can be confusing. If you would like to read more on fruit, please click here to access a previous blog.
Just to confuse you even more, I had previously mentioned that there are 3 types of carbohydrate. You may have heard the phrases ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’ before. Let’s look into what the 3 types are…
Sugar – All forms of sugar digest in the body quickly and enters the blood at a rapid rate, for those who want to learn something new, these foods are described as having a ‘high glycemic index’ – (blog to follow). Thus, we have an increased insulin demand, overproduction of insulin and hyperinsulinemia. Overtime (a long time), this has been linked with affecting the body’s sensitivity to insulin (= obesity and diabetes). As fruit is made up of a type of sugar called FRUCTOSE, it is thought that fruit is ‘bad’ for you. However, if you read my fruit blog, you will see that fruit is not bad for you. If you are conscious of your glycemic index, you can reduce fruit in your diet and consume your vitamins and minerals through vegetables instead. Please note: if you’re going to eliminate fruit from your diet, then you better be eliminating processed confectionary items and sugary fizzy drinks too, that’s where the real problems are.
Starch – This one is ‘much better’ for your body than sugar. Starch provides a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day, and therefore does not negatively affect the body’s insulin demand and insulin release that I had described in the previous paragraph. Starchy foods, are therefore an example of foods with a low glycaemic index. Because of this, we want to include more starchy carbohydrates in our body. This is why you hear the phrases ‘make you feel fuller for longer’ or ‘slow release over 4 hours’. Examples of starch includes: potatoes, bread, cereal, rice, grains and pasta. For those who are health conscious, you should aim to have a handful of starch on your dinner plate. For example, a handful of brown rice with a piece of fish and vegetables.
Fibre -Our bodies love fibre! Dietary fibre keeps our bowels healthy, lowers cholesterol, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. The reason why fibre is so important is because, well the body can’t absorb and digest it. How can something be so good for us that our body doesn’t use? Well, let’s put it simply…what goes in, must come out. That’s exactly what fibre does, it goes in, the body can’t use it for energy, so the body transports fibre (as well as food and waste products) through our body until it comes out (sorry if you’re eating right now). But, if you think about it, it’s great because we don’t want food rotting in our bellies! Good sources of fibre include vegetables wholegrains (brown not white), wholewheats (brown not white), beans (including baked beans), brown rice, legumes, nuts, jacket potatoes (skin) porridge and more!
Reasons why you should never cut out carbohydrates in your diet
We’ve all heard of ‘miracle diets’ that encourage us to cut out carbohydrates in our diet in order to shed the pounds. But, these ‘diet gurus’ are mistaken. What we are not taught (not sure who’s fault that is) is that your body and brain can’t survive without glucose (carbohydrates) I’m afraid, FACT. Did you know that your brain alone needs 120g of glucose a day just to function? Let alone what your brain and rest of your body needs when you’re working, learning, exercising and sleeping.
Here’s some science for you just to prove how dangerous it is to cut out imperative food groups from your diet. When you begin to starve your body and your brain of glucose, the body breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy, which is clever isn’t it? But what happens when the body doesn’t have stored fat? It will begin to break down your muscles in order to convert it into glucose, thus we have anorexia. Hence those suffering with anorexia nervosa don’t have any fat or muscle to them. They have deprived their body of macronutrients; their body has used up all it’s fat and muscle storage in order to create it’s own glucose. Once the body has ran out of muscle to use, the organs break down.
When your body goes into ‘shock’ and is forced to create it’s own glucose through breaking down it’s fat and muscle storages, this process causes a buildup of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. This causes your blood to be more acidic and causes headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness, irritability and it can kill you.
I hope you’ve learned the importance of carbohydrates from this blog. Here are some examples of how you can add more starch, and fibre into your diet – Your body will thank you for this.
- Oats (which you can get from the supermarket for 40p) you can top this with your favourite fruits, I have mine with berries
- Wholegrain bread topped with an egg and a glass of fresh orange juice
- Baked potato (with tuna salad, cheese, salad, prawns or whatever you like)
- Wholegrain (brown) pasta with whatever you like
- Wholegrain bread (chicken salad, cheese salad) as a sandwich
- Brown rice (Don’t have rice AND potatoes in one meal) with meat and vegetables
- Quinoa if you’re bored of rice (vegetables and turkey)
- At least 2 different vegetables on your plate with whatever you’re eating. There are so many evening meals which you can cook which include several vegetables such as: roast dinner, curry, fajitas, stew and more.
Time for me to get back to watching the Olympics!!
© 2016 Naomi Laws. All rights reserved.