The likelihood is that every single once of us, one Monday woke up and told themself: “Today is the day! I am going to eat healthy, ditch all the carbs and follow a rigid exercise regime!”. We all have this image of the fitness professionals who seem to live off protein shakes, lean chicken and have heavy weights in their arms. But what do you really know about the carbohydrates? Can we survive without them? Absolutely not!
I know that the temptation is high to ditch all the carbs altogether, as one might think it is the quickest way to lose weight. Sadly, nothing quick can ever be long-term, especially when it comes to weight loss. Carbohydrates are extremely important in our diet for many reasons. I have highlighted the 5 main ones.
1) Carbohydrates are broken down to form glucose and glycogen and fat can only be burnt and used as energy if carbs (glucose) is present. If we don’t eat enough carbs our body responds by breaking down our lean muscle tissues and turning it into glucose. This is something we should avoid at all costs because a loss of lean muscle tissue automatically causes a decline in our metabolic rate which in turn causes us to gain more fat.
2) The brain can only function if carbs (glucose) is present. Glucose is the only fuel brain cells use. Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body. Neurons, the cells that communicate with each other, have a high demand for energy because they’re always in a state of metabolic activity. Even during sleep, neurons are still at work repairing and rebuilding their worn out structural components. So carbohydrates deprivation leads to direct brain malfunction. ((Further proof can be found here))
3) Carbohydrates are broken down and stored as glycogen in our muscles to give us energy. If we don’t eat enough carbs, our glycogen stores become depleted leaving us feeling tired, shaky and often experiencing headache. Yes, you got it right, the main fuel during heavy exercise is carbohydrates! It is stored in skeletal muscles and in the liver as glycogen. It is a limited store and when depleted leads to fatigue. So increasing the glycogen stores in the days leading up to endurance competition by consuming a high carb diet improves endurance capacity by delaying the onset of fatigue. Even carbs breakfast will increase glycogen stores and improve endurance capacity by prolonged exercise.
4) Serotonin is nature’s own appetite suppressant ((To find out more, click here)). This powerful brain chemical curbs cravings and shuts off your appetite. It makes you feel satisfied even if your stomach is not full. The result is eating less and losing weight. Where do you find this magical thing? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and it can only be made after sweet or starchy carbohydrates are eaten. Isn’t that shocking? Serotonin is a natural mood regulator, serotonin makes you feel emotionally stable, less anxious, more tranquil and even more focused and energetic.
It’s been suggested here that the reason why you do not feel hungry when you eat all the bread before the meal is served in a restaurant, is not because your ruined your appetite, as you mother used to say, or not because you have consumed 120 calories in bread. It’s only due to serotonin!
5) Carbohydrates are less likely to be stored as fat on the body. For every 100 kcal of carbohydrate we overeat, only 75 kcal will be stored as fat. This is because the body uses 25 of those calories turning the carbohydrates into fat. However, for every 100 kcal of fat we overeat, our body only uses 2 kcal of energy to store, because as we have learnt earlier, fats are our bodies preferred macronutrient used for storage. While carbohydrates are the preferred macronutrient used for energy.
Obviously, not all carbohydrates are the same. It is not suggested that you should go to your corner shop and buy all the cakes and cookies to stimulate your brain! You should always opt for complex carbohydrates that have low glycemix index (GI) as opposed to simple carbs with high GI.
Complex carbohydrates tend to be in natural foods, they have long chains of sugar molecules that the liver gradually breaks down into shorter glucose molecules the brain uses for fuel. In natural foods, the cell walls are made of cellulose fiber that slows down digestion, slowing breakdown and the subsequent release of sugars into the bloodstream, which is exactly what you want from your food.
[blockquote]Complex carbohydrates are: oatmeal, bananas, beans, wholemeal pasta and bread, carrots, potatoes, artichoke, asparagus and a whole bunch of other delicious vegetables.[/blockquote]
Simple carbohydrates are found in most processed or refined foods and some natural foods. These carbohydrates have short-chained sugar molecules and, because they break apart quickly, enter the bloodstream quickly. Sugary foods, such as corn syrup, fruit juices, and honey contain glucose that is absorbed directly through the stomach wall and rapidly released into the bloodstream, almost as quickly as if delivered by syringe. Which spikes your insulin level and you become a fat making machine, which is exactly what you do not want to happen.
[blockquote]Simple carbohydrates are: some fruits, milk, milk products, all the processed and refined food like commercially bought cakes, cookies, pasties and candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks. [/blockquote]
However, as with everything in our life, balance is the key! If you eat a couple of candies a day or a small bar of chocolate daily, it will not give you cancer or diabetes! It’s all about the quantity.