Carbs aren’t a problem.
But your relationship with them might be-
Carbs are rather misunderstood in the world of weight loss. They’re often held responsible for weight gain, and for the skyrocketing incidence rates of diabetes and heart disease. Carbohydrates are the second most demonised macronutrient after fats. Of course, over-consumption of carbs can cause quite a few problems, but to completely cut out the body’s preferred source of energy is an extreme measure. Carbohydrates provide energy and we all require energy to function. Not just for basic functioning, we need them to be able to thrive, work and workout. We need them to survive. We have to work towards eliminating Carbophobia. Instead of completely removing carbs from our diet, we must make conscious decisions to move towards simply being carb-conscious, and learn to provide our bodies with the right sort of carbohydrates that are packed with a variety of essential nutrients.
Why are carbs important?
Carbs are our primary source of energy. They help us carry out our day to day activities. All carbohydrates on further breakdown form glucose, which is then transported to cells, tissues and organs to fuel all of the body’s functions. Our body is smart and efficient in the sense that it will choose the quickest, easiest, least energy expensive route. Due to the fact that carbohydrates are so easily broken down to glucose, they become our body’s preferred source of energy. Glucose is generally stored as Glycogen in our bodies. Glycogen is found within the liver and muscle cells, and the amount of it that can be stored is limited. Glycogen can be seen as an energy reserve or even a back-up plan when glucose is required, but not available. A great example of this is during intense exercise. The body converts stored glycogen into glucose which then provides sufficient energy for muscle contractions. There are range of health benefits as a consequence of having carbs in your diet. To summarise, a few of these are –
Fibre is a complex carbohydrate. Your body can’t break down fibre. Most of it passes through the intestines, stimulating and aiding digestion. A diet rich in fibre will help us stay fuller for longer, improve hormonal balance, keep our digestion healthy, flush toxins out and reduce the likelihood of weight gain. Good quality carbs are the main source of fibre in our diet and by vilifying carbs, the major source of fibre is restricted, making it difficult to meet the recommended dietary fibre threshold. Rather than cutting carbs out, a good option is to switch to wholegrain versions of it, like brown rice, wheat, oats etc. and avoid refined carbohydrates.
A small, controlled serving of carbohydrates before bed has been shown to improve sleep. Carbohydrate consumption leads to the release of insulin which can boost tryptophan and serotonin, the two brain chemicals involved in inducing sleep. However, consuming an excessive amount of sugar or processed carbs before bed, leads to faster carbohydrate absorption by the body, resulting in frequent waking. Being conscious of carbohydrate intake before bedtime can make a remarkable difference between sound sleep and interrupted restless nights.
3. Muscle building
The body requires a lot of energy to power through workouts that aim to build bigger, stronger muscles. Building muscle, optimally, will require a diet that contains carbs – they’re your primary source of energy after all. Carbohydrates are important because they help top off glycogen stores, supporting a more intense exercise session. This muscular glycogen is a local energy source for exercise. When these glycogen stores are low, you may notice a harder time pushing your muscles to their maximum potential.
What do good and bad carbs look like?
There are two classes of carbohydrates simple and complex.
Simple carbs are sugars and starches that can be found in refined and highly processed foods like white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour etc. These types of carbs are just empty calories. They are stripped of natural fibre and other nutrients and are often packed with plenty of salt and unhealthy fat. These types of carbs can lead to weight gain and health problems.
Complex carbohydrates are made from long chains of sugar molecules and are found in beans, legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They typically contain great amounts of fibre and take longer to be digested and absorbed. This ensure that there isn’t a drastic spike in your blood sugar and that you are still provided with energy that can last until your next meal.
More refined is more processed. So, for example, white rice, breads and pastas. They’re stripped of fibre and other nutrients during processing, whereas brown rice, whole grain pastas, and whole grain breads aren’t. Since refined grains don’t have the fibre to slow digestion, they raise your blood sugar more quickly. The complex carbohydrates found in whole plant foods like whole grains, tubers, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts are highly nutritious and should form the bulk of a healthy diet.
What are some carb-rich foods you must eat?
- Whole grains: brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, amaranth, barley, whole-grain pasta and whole-grain breakfast cereals etc.
- Fruits: apples, pears, bananas, kiwifruit etc.
- Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, yams, corn. peas and carrots etc.
- Legumes: lentils, black beans, chick peas, soybeans etc.
- Milk products: low-fat milk, plain yogurt.
These are healthy and necessary inclusions that make a diet balanced. Excluding them will hamper regular body functioning and digestion.
What is the bottom line?
Diets that cut down on carbs drastically will not be sustainable, irrespective of his fitness goal. Rather than restricting carbs, replace simple (refined) carbohydrates with nutrient dense complex carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables and fruits to be healthy and stay fit. Remember, moderation and balance is key. Stay carb-conscious and eat the right carbs for your body.
Edited By: Aishwarya Raviganesh