Low carbohydrate diets have sparked some serious attention over the past few years due to the high fat, ketogenic type of lifestyle. These trendy fad diets that are typically high in processed oils, heavy cream, and meat have taken over and villainized carbohydrates, the main energy source for the daily functions of the human body. It can be confusing hearing every other year that carbs are good for you, and then bad for you once more. So let’s take a look at what they actually do for your body and how they can give you sustainable energy!
A lot of people don’t realize that fruits & vegetables contain carbohydrates as well. So, when they jump on the “low carb, high fat” diet, they don’t understand that they are cutting out their body’s main energy source. When some hear the word “carb” they think of simple carbohydrates like processed white sugar, pasta, bread, etc. These foods should be cut out of the daily diet, so the intention in wanting to better their health is correct. However, there is a whole other realm of carbs that is referred to as complex carbs, which includes foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
A very popular 25-year long Swedish study showed that a low fat, high carb diet had decreased blood cholesterol levels in those participating in the study and helped to sustain a healthy consistent weight, versus higher cholesterol levels and yo-yo dieting for extended periods of time. Ingegerd Johansson, the study’s lead researcher, was quoted saying:
“The association between nutrition and health is complex. It involves specific food components, interactions among those food components, and interactions with genetic factors and individual needs. While low carbohydrate/high fat diets may help short term weight loss, these results of this Swedish study demonstrate that long term weight loss is not maintained and that this diet increases blood cholesterol which has a major impact on risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Carbohydrates have taken on this title because at the chemical level they are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Like stated prior, carbohydrates are what our body turns to first for energy for our central nervous system and muscles, so cutting this macro-nutrient out of the diet at such a high level will most likely leave you feeling weak, lethargic, and cranky. They give us dietary fiber, which we need in order to feed our good gut bacteria and keep digestion regular. Carbs also help to deliver our body’s other macronutrients (fat and protein), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). They have also been linked to decision making and brain function, according to two studies published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In these studies, the people who ate high carbohydrate rich breakfasts had different outlooks on strategy when it came to competitive game playing than those who ate high protein breakfasts.
When entering the body, carbs will be broken down into smaller units of sugar such as glucose and fructose. The small intestine absorbs these smaller units and brings them to the liver. From there the liver converts all of these sugars into glucose, which is accompanied with insulin throughout the bloodstream and then converted into energy. If the glucose is not immediately needed, the body will then store it in the skeletal muscles and liver for up to 2,000 calories in the form of glycogen. If the glycogen stores are full, this is where the carbs will be stored as fat. So eating the wrong kind of carbs can increase the amount of calories you are taking in daily, and end up being stored as fat.
There are two different classifications of carbs: simple and complex. The difference between these two forms is the chemical structure with how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed in the bloodstream. Simple carbohydrates are as the name suggests, broken down very quickly and easily and are used for fast bursts of needed energy. They are made up of one or two sugars called monosaccharides (one sugar) and disaccharides (two sugars). Simple carbs are found in foods like fruits, milk products, and “sugary” foods like candy and sodas. Complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars that make them up called polysaccharides. They can be found in more starchy foods like beans, cereals, corn, lentils, peanuts, peas, potatoes, and whole grains. These are what you will want to incorporate more for a longer lasting energy source.
It is important to note that there are forms of “bad carbs” and “good carbs” as you may have already gathered. Not all carbohydrates are created equal, so it is recommended to incorporate good carbs into your daily diet as best as possible.
“Bad carbs” are those sugary and processed foods mentioned prior. Just a small amount of these foods can increase your caloric intake and insulin resistance drastically, leaving you at a higher risk for chronic conditions and weight gain.
The best way to look at “good carbs” is eating foods in their whole food form. This eliminates mainly processed foods with additives such as mainstream breakfast & snack bars and biscuits, that are also high in sugar. However, there are some healthy alternatives that have been created with intention and care for the consumer, with minimal ingredients. If you can look on the back of a food label and read the ingredients list without having to look up what additive is listed, then you are choosing the right brand! Olyra is a company who prides themselves on milling Ancient Greek Grains for 5 generations, to deliver the best possible quality of nutritional products they can for their consumers.
Let’s face it, living in the fast-paced world we are all used to today, sometimes we don’t have time to prepare a meal to give us energy for the start of our day and fuel our body with the nutrients it needs. In these cases, it is important to make sure we have healthy alternatives on hand that can deliver quick and sustainable energy for our bodies and minds! Instead of being afraid of carbohydrates, choose the right carbs to fuel your cells with, and make sure to always have nutrient dense alternatives on hand when you can!
By Madalyn Hughes: Certifiied Holistic Nutritionist | Member of the NANP