Let’s be clear about Carbohydrates

Let’s be clear about carbohydrates. There are so many rumours speculating about how bad carbs are for you; they are ‘the devil’, ‘they are the reason you’ve gained weight’.

Well I’ve got news for you, that’s a load of sh*t….

People abuse calories (not just from carbs), and exceed their recommended intake for the day. The excess energy (calories) the body doesn’t use, will then unfortunately will be turned into fat, and will result in you gaining unwanted weight.

Yes, I absolutely agree that when people drop carbs, or cut them out completely they lose a lot of weight quickly (anyone would!) – however, forward to a few weeks later (when they’re reintroduced those carbs) and that weight’s right back where it started! I see so many people try to stick to the outrageous requirements many diets expect – and they might as well live life as a robot instead, where’s the enjoyment in turning down a nice lasagna, or warm bread & butter… yum…

By all means, if the only thing you want to do is look good for 2 months – then cut your carbs to a super low level – you’ll look great temporarily, but I can guarantee that in the same year you will be back where you started.

Here are some of examples of why carbs are good for you:

  1. Will boost or give you energy
  2. Helps build muscle mass
  3. Improve your digestive system
  4. Control your weight
  5. Boost your mood
  6. Keep your memory sharp
  7. Fasten your recovery from training
  8. Improve sleep quality
  9. Healthier skin
  10. Provide various minerals (fruits & vegetables)

RANT ALERT!

Removing carbs completely from your lifestyle will cause you to become unenergetic, constipated, miserable, forgetful and with bad skin! Doesn’t sound enjoyable does it? I bet a few of you are even reading this now and can totally relate! SO… don’t give them up!! Instead learn about them and how they work for your body – once you understand the benefits you can find ways to incorporate them into your diet and hit your weight goals.

Although this blog is about understanding carbs, it would also be beneficial for you to read about protein and fats, as well as energy balance (calories in vs. calories out).

Right, rant over – let’s learn about carbohydrates!

Carbs are the main fuel source for the body and are made up of fiber, starch & sugar – and are classified into two types; SIMPLE and COMPLEX carbs.

SIMPLE carbs – are the most basic form of carbohydrates, these are smaller and easier to process known as ‘monosaccharides’ and ‘disaccharides’, as they contain one or two sugar molecules linked together.

For example:

  • Foods with raw sugar
  • Foods with brown sugar
  • Foods with corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
  • Drinks with sugar like fruit juice concentrate, normal soft drinks (not diets ones)

COMPLEX carbs –are made up of sugar molecules that are linked together in complex chains, which contain more than 2 sugars in a group called ‘oligosaccharides’ and ‘polysaccharides’.

For example:

  • Green vegetables
  • Whole grains and foods made from them, such as; oatmeal, pasta & whole-grain breads
  • Starchy vegetables, such as; potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn & pumpkin
  • Pulses: beans, lentils & peas

Monosaccharides: are made up of disaccharides (simple carbs) and polysaccharides (complex carbs), which are broken down into their simplest form and contain only one simple sugar molecule.

Here is an example of the saccharide:

The saccharide - carbohydrate pyramid

All carbohydrates we consume are digested into Monosaccharides no matter what the sugar source; SIMPLE or COMPLEX.

When being digested simple carbs will be broken down into monosaccharides which will become much easier and quicker to digest, they then get absorbed into the blood stream faster which will cause a spike in your blood sugar for a while, which will then drop down again. So, with this spiked blood sugar you will likely feel amazing for maybe 30 minutes, then you’ll feel run down until you have ‘given into temptation’ and had another chocolate bar or 3+ spoons of sugar in your tea…. Definitely not SUSTAINABLE unless you’re stubborn and don’t want to improve your health.

A diet dominated with more rapid digesting sugars will elevate your blood ‘triglyceride’ levels and over the years you will likely become at higher risk of developing heart disease, and maybe signs of metabolic syndrome, a combination of:

  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar
  • too much fat around the waist
  • low HDL (good cholesterol) / high LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • high triglycerides
  • insulin resistance which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes

Complex carbs when digested have many molecules attached and will take a lot longer to convert into monosaccharides, then absorbed into the blood stream. Because the conversion and absorption takes longer – your blood sugar will not be overloaded in one go, keeping your levels more sustainable – releasing more energy throughout the day, rather than energy spikes and dips, whilst keeping you fuller for longer. Now this looks like a more SUSTAINABLE lifestyle choice, doesn’t it?

Some of the great effects of having a diet full of slower digesting foods, are increased vitamin & mineral intake (healthier body and immune system), increased fiber intake (feel lighter and not constipated), enhanced sanity (more in control), a higher thermic effect of feeding (burn more calories digesting), and blood sugar control (better energy levels).

Once in the blood stream Insulin is produced by the Pancreas and is what mainly transports our energy from A to B, to be used and stored as Glycogen. When levels of Glycogen in the liver become too much the body will store the remaining Glycogen in various places like your muscles and brain. Whatever has not been used by your muscles or brain, or been absorbed by hungry cells, will be stored in the fat cells.

In other words, if your sugar intake is too high, but your muscle, brain or body doesn’t use up the remaining energy you will see the effects in weight gain! Too many simple carbs create too much fat!

Simple Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates - a graph

Let’s dig a little deeper

The way everyone’s body is able to digest carbs (energy) is unique, here I’ve outlined two individual’s lifestyle and how they consume carbohydrates:

Example one: If you’re someone that has been living a ‘sedentary life’ and consuming lots of simple sugars, the body will most likely become ‘carb sensitive’ overtime. This is due to the lack of muscle mass from being inactive which will give the body less use for the excess sugars, thus storing extra energy within your fat cells. Which can lead to unhealthy high cholesterol levels, as well as chronic diseases like diabetes type 2.

Example two: If you’re someone who lives an active lifestyle, you have more body tissue and muscle mass, thus requiring more energy to support these systems – and in return your body uses more energy, storing less within the fat cells as example one, and in turn making you less carb sensitive.

Don’t be scared if you’re relating to example one, most people will, all these can be reversed with a little commitment to changing habits and your nutrition. An initial starter for 10 would be to introduce more complex carbs into your diet, rather than simple ones. And of course, exercising in general; using weights, body weights and kettlebells (resistance training) – basically get building up a sweat and eating right and you’ll see start seeing and feeling the results!

Nothing is a quick fix unfortunately, so you must be patient and keep pushing forward.

Carbohydrates: Lets summarise

  • This blog is about understanding carbohydrates, it would be a good idea to read about protein, fats and calorie energy balance. In fact, keep an eye out for these topics in my blog!
  • You do not really need to know the science behind it all that’s for me to know, but I love a good knowledge share!
  • You need to look for SUSTAINABLITY in health and cutting carbs to the max is wrong and unhealthy
  • Never shy away from the main energy source in the body, which is carbs
  • Experiment a little with how carbs effect your body, because everyone processes energy differently. Over-time you will get a good idea of how carbs respond your body and what ratio better suits you day-to-day.
  • Always make sure that your diet is full of more complex carbs and not simple ones, not only do complex carbs have more nutritional benefits for you like; fibre, vitamins & minerals – it will help boost your energy levels
  • Absolutely you can still have some simple sugars like chocolate and ice cream – you’re only human after all and you must enjoy the smaller perks in life
  • Make it a priority to incorporate good carbs into your daily food habits, I would say at least 90% complex and 10% simple
  • Over-time your body can become less sensitive to our friend carbohydrates depending on the steps you take:
  • Don’t forget to exercise!
  • You need to exercise!
  • Exercise!
  • Please exercise!
  • The bottom line is that those ‘low carb’ diets are sh*t, they are UNHEALTHY and not SUSTAINABLE, you need carbs and cutting them out will only give you trouble!

Hopefully this blog will give you the info you need to be as healthy as possible. Give me a shout if you need any additional help.

*To note: if you are diabetic, please consult your doctor before making any dramatic shifts in your eating habits.

Speak soon.
Stephan