Today I want to discuss carbohydrates because they have a total undeserved reputation. Carbs are more often than not blamed as the root cause of weight gain. There are actually people out there who believe carbs inherently make you fat. I know, I am shocked too! So, what are carbohydrates, right? As most of us already know, carbohydrates are 1 of 3 macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins), meaning they are 1 of 3 ways our body gets energy or calories. Our bodies can’t naturally produce macronutrients. They can only be supplied by our diets.
Carbs are the body’s preferred energy source and provide energy for the central nervous system and muscles. When consuming carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose or blood sugar, which can either be immediately used or stored in the liver and muscles for later use. According to Iowa State University, if glucose isn’t immediately used for energy, the body can store up to 2,000 calories of it in the liver and skeletal muscles in the form of glycogen. Once glycogen stores are full, carbs are then converted and stored as fat. Carbohydrates are classified as either simple or complex. Let’s start with simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugars, are fast-digesting and immediately send a quick burst of glucose into the blood stream. That is why after you eat a sweet dessert, for example, you feel a quick burst of energy followed by crash when your energy is depleted. This is the result of a sudden spike in your blood glucose immediately followed by a drastic drop, which can lead to hypoglycemia if your blood glucose drops too low.
Like most things, not all sugars are created equal, right? For instance, there are more naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose) that are packed with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that our bodies need. Then there are complex carbohydrates, which is what the majority of us consume on a regular basis and consist of starches and fibers. Complex carbohydrates are slower to digest, and provide a lower steadier release of glucose into the bloodstream, which minimizes the sudden drastic spikes and drops in blood sugar levels and the eventual crash.
Of course, there are carbs that most would consider bad such as super processed foods like potato chips, cookies, etc. The junk foods, right!? However, eating a diet consisting mainly of whole, minimally processed foods along with the right amount of quality carbs can actually not only beneficial to your health, but help with weight loss. This happens because many foods classified as good carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables contain a good amount of dietary fiber. Like protein, fiber helps you to feel full and are typically low-calorie dense foods. A study published in 2014 in the journal of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that whole grains contain antioxidants, which were previously thought to only exist almost exclusively in fruits and veggies. So far it is all about the quality of carbs you are eating. Keep in mind that quality should pertain to all the foods or macro and micronutrients you are consuming.
So why bring this up? Because carbs have a bad rep and some may follow a low-carb diet out of fear carbs will make them fat, it is worth noting that not getting enough carbs can cause health and physiological problems. A diet lacking in carbohydrates can leave your body depleted of energy. If you are not providing your body with a sufficient amount of glucose your central nervous system can be adversely affected. If you are not careful, this can lead to hypoglycemia causing symptoms such as mental and physical weakness and dizziness. Unless you are in ketosis where your body is using fat for energy, without carbs, your body will start to use protein for fuel which can be problematic. Your body needs protein to make, build, and repair muscles. According to the University of Cincinnati, using protein for fuel instead of carbs also puts undue stress on your kidneys leading to kidney stones and other potential issues.
The moral of the story is that it isn’t carbohydrates that are the culprit for weight gain. It is the quality and quantity of carbohydrates and other foods you are consuming. Like I stated earlier, eating a diet consisting primarily of whole, minimally processed foods will help with losing weight, maintaining a healthy weight, and being overall healthy. Just be mindful of what you are putting into your bodies. Choose proteins that are hormone, antibiotic and GMO free and eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and veggies. Don’t be afraid of carbs. They aren’t the devil and they aren’t going to make you fat!