Eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, it’s a wonder why so many people are confused as to what foods to put into their mouths these days. The epidemic of obesity is largely (if not the key element) associated with the foods we consume on a daily basis. Many fad diets suggest to limit the intake of carbohydrates in order to lose weight and keep it off. However, we simply forget that being skinny doesn’t always equate to overall health. How you get to be a healthy weight is more important than the number you see on the scale.
As a society, when is comes to understanding carbohydrates and the role they play in our weight and health, there seems to be a lot of miscommunication. There is a world of difference between refined carbohydrates and those found in whole foods. Let’s take a look further to see the differences of carbohydrates and the effects they have not only on our weight but long-term health.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?
They main purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy. Carbs are broken down into glucose which we use as energy. In nutrition, carb or carbohydrate are one of the three macronutrients (protein and fat make up the other two). There are three main categories of carbohydrates; sugar, starch and fiber.
Sugar – when you eat natural sugars from whole foods such as fruits, you get almost instant energy as when you digest these foods, they are released into your bloodstream quickly as they have so few sugar molecules to digest. The extra benefit of consuming these whole foods is that they are packed with vital nutrients. Add sugars such as pop, jam, also provide instant energy but they contain more calories, lack little or no vital nutrients and contribute to weight gain.
Starch – starchy foods are digested differently. Some are digested slowly providing you with long-term energy which in turn keeps you full while other starchy foods digest quickly which can spike your blood sugar level. Starchy foods consist of corn, beans, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, and grains. These foods are not only packed with essential vitamins and minerals, but they are a key energy source and many contain fiber. Try to avoid refined grains such as white pasta and bread (even multigrain bread) as once they go through the refinement process, they are stripped of all their beneficial fiber.
Fiber – there are two types of fiber; soluble and insoluble. Fiber doesn’t provide energy directly but many carbohydrates contain fiber which contain both types of fiber which assist our bodies in many ways. Ways such as soluble fiber helping your blood sugar level by slowing down the absorption of carbs and it interferes with the absorption of dietary fat and cholesterol. This helps lower your blood cholesterol level. Insoluble fiber keeps digestive waste moving through your intestines which can help prevent constipation. High fiber starchy carbohydrates release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly whereas added sugars, refined sugars, and sports drinks release sugar quickly.
Refined vs. Complex Carbs – What’s the Difference
First of all, it’s important to know that not all carbohydrates are the same. Carbohydrates have always received a bad wrap but not all carbs are bad. The ‘bad carbs’ known otherwise as ‘refined carbohydrates’ are low in nutrients if any, high in saturated fat, and provide no health benefit to our bodies. These carbs are quickly digested, releasing sugar rapidly into our bloodstream causing insulin spikes that lead to energy highs and eventually crashing lows. Foods such as white rice, white flour, table sugar, and sweets are all examples of simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are a great source of fiber. They release glucose into the bloodstream gradually providing our bodies with a steady supply of energy. These foods also help us with weight management by keeping us sated so it’s important to consume foods such as whole grains, oats, quinoa, nuts and seeds on a daily basis. These foods are as wholesome as they get, unrefined, and a healthy way to stay full and provide us with lots of energy.
Consuming Carbs for Weight Loss
Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram whereas fat contains nine calories per gram. What does this mean? By replacing fatty, sugary foods with high-fiber carbohydrates, you are more likely to reduce the number of calories in your diet. If you look at people who are thin, they consume the majority of their calories from carbohydrates. Many carbs have powerful appetite suppressants because they are digested more slowly and bring on a sensation of fullness not just to your belly but your brain.
Eating low-calorie density foods is more effective for weight management than the approach of calories in vs. calories out. In order to stay full, you need to incorporate more foods that help you stay full but at the same time have small amounts of calories. Low calorie density foods keep you satisfied with a feeling of fullness whereas high calorie foods do not. Green vegetables are so low in calories and high in nutrients that the more you eat of the them, the more weight you will lose. Mix these greens with starchy and fibrous carbs and you’re well on your way to attaining the weight you always wanted and keeping it off.
The Low Carb Diet
As Dr. John McDougall said, “People love to hear good things about their bad habits,” is so true these days with all these fad diets. It’s no different from the craze of the low-carb diets that are used to promote high-protein, high-fat food consumption. The message that ‘s being sent to millions of people is that of eat your favourite foods which will get you healthy, and lose weight has been seen for decades. This doesn’t mean that people don’t consume any carbs, it simply means they are limiting their carbohydrate consumption. The problem with this is that people are eliminating the wrong carbs. A low-carb diet does not define which foods are used to achieve weight loss. They are eliminating or reducing carbohydrates such as fruits, potatoes, whole grains that provide our body with essential fiber. Instead, they are still consuming rich-tasting, high-fatty foods such as pastries, pop, white bread, etc. These diets are encouraging consumption of animal protein and fat, limiting consumption of plant-based foods which in turn create dietary imbalances which are associated with high rates of disease.
Consuming Carbs for Overall Health
We presume that all carbs and calories are the same. Nutritional reductionism needs to change to a more holistic way of eating. We don’t eat for single nutrients, rather we eat a plant-based food for the sum of all of it’s nutrients. When you limit your calories, or cut out certain foods to obtain a desired weight, you can also be missing out on vital nutrients that you body requires to build a healthy immune system.
As an example, when we limit or omit carbohydrates such as beans, berries and vegetables in orange colour, we take away a variety of foods that are rich in phytonutrients which not only build up our immune defense but also have anti-cancer effects. Plant-based carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains offer fiber as well as protein. What most people don’t realize is that most whole foods have a combination of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. The only difference is that the ratios will be different.
In other words, it’s not the carbohydrates that are the problem, but rather the processed carbohydrates that eliminates the nutrients in our foods, making us sick and unhealthy.
Eat Well – Move Well – Live Well
Your Compassionate Coach,