Carbs: bread, pasta, potatoes. Received wisdom, especially amongst dieters, is that carbs are bad and should be avoided. Is this true?
What is a carbohydrate though? Something stodgy? fattening? A temptation to sabotage your diet?
Carbohydrates are actually defined by the Oxford Online Dictionary as “any of a large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose. They contain hydrogen and oxygen in the same ratio as water (2:1) and typically can be broken down to release energy in the animal body”
Ok. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? Here’s the facts you need to know about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. The brain, for example, feeds almost exclusively upon carbohydrates – glucose (monosaccharide) in particular. We need carbohydrates to function but excess carbohydrate intake can lead the body to store the energy as fat. Carbohydrates are broadly similar to saccharides which are sugars. There are several kinds but they can be split into two main types: simple and complex.
The simple kind, also known as simple sugars, tend to be over processed and are typically found in lower nutrient foods. Examples include sugar, fruit and fruit juice, biscuits, white bread or white flour products like cake or pasta, commercial cereals and sweets. Surprisingly, the body’s best source of simple carbohydrates is fruit. The fructose in fruit, which increases as the fruit ages and ripens, can be easily converted to glucose, the body’s most common blood sugar. In addition, fruit contains a wide variety of nutrients without the additional fat content found in many of the other simple carbohydrate products.
Complex carbohydrates are better known as starches. Commonly found in whole-grain products, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice. While most people would rightly include potatoes as a starchy carbohydrate, it may surprise you that other vegetables are also starchy carbohydrates; beans, parsnips, corn and sweet potatoes. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach and cabbage are also excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. Over indulging in these starchy carbohydrates, however, can also lead to the excess energy being quickly stored as fat similar to the simple carbohydrates. The key difference, with complex carbohydrates, is that the fibre content in wholegrain or starchy foods makes you feel fuller quicker, assists your digestion and they can be much more difficult to over indulge with. Whoever ate too much spinach or too many parsnips for example?
The nutritional science behind these premises is relatively complex so I’ve tried just to keep to the important points.
Overeating of any carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and the storage of fat about the body. That said, carbohydrates are essential for energy. Over eating the simple carbohydrates will lead to impaired blood sugar functioning and are likely to cause food cravings, mood swings and create a feeling of overall sluggishness.
Bottom Line: Carbs are NOT bad but not all carbs are made equal. Eating the nutrient-dense carbohydrates family (fruits, vegetables and wholegrains) will lead to increased vitality, energy and overall improved health keeping blood sugars even throughout the day and fuelling the body with not only glucose but with a range of minerals and antioxidants essential for a lean, healthy body.