Carbohydrate Viewpoint

How many times have you been told to avoid carbohydrates? To tell you the truth, I have had my share of arguments about this topic. Unfortunately, you most certainly are not alone. As a society, we have been taught to believe that carbs are bad and that the only way to lose weight is to avoid them.

With the rise of the Keto diet, a low carb idea has never been more popular. Low-carb aficionados believe the carbs are to blame for weight gain and a number of health problems, including inflammation, brain fog and lack of concentration. And while some of the carbohydrate sources are to blame for such a problem, this idea of all or nothing is not always the best way to go. So, I am going to repeat what you have heard many times before, not all carbs are created equal. Many researches have been conducted over the years and provide evidence that the most nutritious kinds of carbohydrates can support one's health, improve energy, and actually help you lose weight.

So where do you start? By understanding that there are few kinds of carbs that most certainly affect our bodies in different ways.

Understand the difference between carbs - When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and released into your bloodstream. The pancreas responds by releasing insulin to move that glucose into cells. Now, the higher your blood sugar levels get, the more insulin circulates through your system. And this is what becomes problematic. Per Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Wellness, excess insulin damages cells, ups your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and triggers your body to store surplus glucose (the energy that your body doesn’t currently need) as fat—especially in your midsection. Here’s the good news: Not all carbs cause a big spike in blood sugar. Processed (refined) carbs—found in sugars and processed grains, like white rice, and anything baked with white flour—are stripped of nutrients and contain little to no fiber; when they are broken down they send your blood glucose and insulin levels soaring. Complex carbs such as legumes, nuts and seeds, and all fruits and vegetables are made up of long chains of sugar molecules (a.k.a. starches), as well as fiber; this way they take more time to digest and provide a steadier stream of blood sugar, prompting a more gradual release of insulin. Complex carbs are found in whole grains, too. If you eat grains as part of your diet, look for “100 percent whole grain” on labels (including products like pasta and crackers). Instead of only looking at the Nutrition facts, pay attention to the ingredients list and make sure it doesn`t include added sugars or any ingredients that you can`t pronounce.

Carbs Are Bad for Your Body - It is very comforting to know that many people are getting away from SAD (Standard American Diet) and therefore avoiding packaged treats, processed carbs, and soda. This way we are definitely lowering the chance of chronic inflammation and brain fog, among other issues. But eliminating all carbs comes with its own challenges. Fiber-rich carbohydrates boast health benefits such as fuelling your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system. Carbs also contribute to the production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Thanks to their fiber, complex carbs aid digestion, help you feel full, keep cholesterol levels in check, and ease bloating and constipation. And perhaps most important, complex carbs are rich sources of nutrients and powerful phytochemicals, which play a role in preventing and even fighting illness and cellular aging. So how many carbs should you consume? This is such a loaded question that doesn`t have a straightforward answer. Let`s imagine an endurance athlete. This is someone who focuses primarily on aerobic training and may train multiple times a week or even day. He or she needs more than the average person because they are burning more energy and require more fuel. For someone who is not as active, they would want to pay more attention to timing, source, and amount of their carb intake. To keep things simple, as a general guideline I like everyone eating an abundance of low starch vegetables which are still considered carbohydrates but with a much higher amount of fiber and lower glycemic index. This includes vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, etc. What about fruit? Only because fruit contains fructose I like to suggest 1-2 servings a day with an emphasis on fruits that have minimal effect on our blood sugar levels such as pears, kiwis, strawberries, etc. With that being said, I suggest dividing your higher starch carbs into three categories: grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables and fruits (think sweet potato and bananas). These are best eaten in moderation, about 1 serving (½ - 1 cup) three times a day, though the ideal amount for you really depends on your age, weight, and personal biochemistry.

Carbs make you gain weight - I would not be surprised if some of you immediately scrolled down to this part. So I will start by saying that too much protein can lead to weight gain, therefore too many carbs will do exactly the same. What I am trying to say is that too much of any food group will result in extra pounds. If you focus on moderation and slowly digestible complex carbs you will be satisfied and not crave a dessert after every meal. High-fiber foods take longer to digest, they tend to even out blood sugar, leading to lower insulin levels—which keeps your body from creating excess belly fat, therefore choosing complex carbs over the refined kind might even help you lose weight. One time when low carb may be appropriate is if you have over 30 lb. to lose or have an imbalanced blood sugar levels. Even then, eliminating carbohydrates completely is not recommended and it is important to make sure you still get all the vital nutrients that usually come from certain carbohydrates.

Before adapting to any dietary change you should always be aware of its sustainability. Low carb meal plan is simply not sustainable long term. Any approach you take during your initial weeks of weight loss should eventually transition you to a moderate intake of carbohydrates (and other food groups) that will ultimately match your goals, activity and lifestyle.