“Our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.” ~Hippocrates
When the Atkins diet came out, everyone suddenly turned against carbohydrates.
Carbs were considered to be the sworn enemy of trying to stay in shape and were blamed for every ounce of fat on the body.
Carbohydrates are at least partially to blame for weight gain and fat increases when overused. But it's wrong to call them the enemy of weight loss.
Just like any other macronutrient or piece of the human diet, carbohydrates do have a role to play.
Removing carbohydrates completely is just as foolhardy as totally removing protein or fats.
In general, the rule for any dieting system is to use temperance. Too much or too little of any substance is usually worse than having controlled amounts.
What Are Carbs
While proteins are can be described as building materials for the body, carbohydrates are simply used for energy.
Carbohydrates provide the energy necessary for high-intensity workouts and activities. If you consider your body like a car, carbohydrates would be the premium fuel for that vehicle.
Carbohydrates are stored easily in the body and are used as a form of reserve energy for the body.
When your body burns energy, it is usually burning a mixture of carbohydrates and fat. Which is being burned usually depends on the type of activity you are engaged in. High intensity means that you will be burning carbohydrates, while low intensity burns fat. The reason high intensity burns carbohydrates is that they are often easier to break down and provide the body with more energy than fat.
Carbohydrates pump glycogen into your muscles. This is essential for proper functioning.
When you cut back on carbohydrates, your body cannot continue high-intensity workouts with the same vigor.
Correct Carb Intake?
Just like any other macronutrient, the amount of carbohydrates can vary from person to person. There is no set-in-stone amount of carbohydrates that works for everyone.
Many factors account for the proper amount of carbohydrates for any one person.
Carbohydrates sensitivity is how the body reacts to having carbohydrates in it. There is also the general metabolic and pancreatic abilities of any given person. Then there are preexisting conditions like diabetes or thyroid problems that can cause reactions in the body regarding carbohydrates.
What is more important than quantity of carbohydrates is the quality. No matter what type of carbohydrates you take on board, carbs end up as glucose. Nevertheless, carbohydrates are not all created equal. There are good and bad, simple and complex, natural and unnatural carbohydrates that you need to consider.
Each type of carbohydrate has its time and place to be consumed. More often than not, simple carbs (which we will talk about next) are to be avoided. Natural and complex carbohydrates are much more efficient to the body’s needs and can be consumed more readily.
Simple carbohydrates are also known as monosaccharides or disaccharides.
Mono, of course, stands for singular, which is why it is considered a simple carbohydrate. Glucose, fructose, and galactose are all monosaccharides.
Disaccharides mean a dual-sugar compound. These, too, are considered simple carbs. Examples of disaccharides are table sugar or dairy sugar.
These are invariably a mixture of two of the three monosaccharides to make up a new compound. The other reason these particular sugars are called simple relates to the way in which they are digested. Simple sugars are digested and utilized quickly by the body. This, in turn, means that the body’s blood sugar levels will rise much more quickly.
Blood Sugar Levels
When you want to lose body fat, it is important to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Your blood sugar level rising too quickly and too often can cause some serious weight control troubles.
When your blood sugar level rises, your body will release insulin. When your body produces too much insulin, the reaction is the release of enzymes that help your body store fat.
High insulin also decreases the ability of the body to break down existing stored fat.
Essentially, your metabolism becomes shot when you are spiking your blood sugar levels. It is important to remember that insulin is not intrinsically bad. It has an important function and is simply doing its normal job. Your body just does not know how to regulate the spike in blood sugar levels when you consume simple carbohydrates. This is especially true when you bombard your system suddenly.
This inability of the body to cope is exactly why simple carbs are often considered “bad” carbs. It is not so much that simple carbs are bad, period. They are, though, a bad idea if you wish to lose the pounds of fat. However, if you are ever stuck out in a snowstorm or on an island, simple carbohydrates and the resultant insulin reaction is exactly what you would need to survive.
Healthy Versus Simple
There are healthy simple carbs as well.
Fruits have very high levels of sugars. These should not be considered “bad” carbohydrates but they should not be overindulged in either. They are simply are a more positive alternative than table sugar or diary sugar.
Now that we have a sound overview of simple carbohydrates, we can focus on more complex carbs.
Complex carbs, as you can imagine, are more complex compounds. They are considered complex because it takes the body more energy and longer to break them down.
Furthermore, the body is not as quick to store complex carbohydrates as fat. This does not mean, though, that complex carbs are a free ticket to eating all the carbohydrates you want. It only means that your body’s blood sugar level will not spike as dramatically.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole-wheat products and certain grains. Eating an entire box of wheat pasta will still boost your blood sugar levels if eaten in a single sitting. The reaction simply will not be as extreme as with an entire box of processed white pasta.