The word “carbs” seems to be all the rage these days. Whenever you ask someone about their latest diet, it tends to include “Well, I’ve been cutting out carbs”. But what has changed with carbs and how did they become so bad all of a sudden?
Carbohydrates are rings of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that join together to form complex structures. They are a great source of energy for the body. The body does not store carbohydrates, but rather converts it too fat to be stored, just like excess protein. The negativity around carbs stems from the fact that it affects our blood sugar levels. If you eat a large amount of carbohydrate, your blood sugar levels spike.
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This in turn causes a spike of the hormone insulin. Insulin acts as a key to unlock your body cells and allow the movement of sugar from your blood into your cells to be used for daily body processes. Besides helping to control our blood sugar, insulin has another function. It instructs our body to stop burning fat causing it to change from fat burning mode into fat storage mode. So large spikes in insulin would mean more fat storage most likely leading to weight gain. Reducing your carb intake would mean less insulin spikes and less storage, and this is how people tend to lose weight.
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Carbs are not only found in starchy foods, but also in dairy and fruit and vegetables. Generally speaking, you would aim to choose the unrefined ones- the carbs that look closest to its natural form e.g. whole-wheat/seed/rye bread vs. white bread, whole fruit vs. dried fruit/fruit juices/fruit smoothies. Pick ones that are high in fiber and limit those high in sugar and you shouldn’t go wrong.
Carbohydrates seem to not be “in fashion” at the moment. Is the secret really to cut out carbs? The truth is there is no standard dietary solution for everyone. Cutting out carbs work for some people. Others don’t find it sustainable and can’t cut it out for a long enough period to see weight loss. Carbs should not be thought of as the devil and you should feel no shame in eating them if you are choosing the right type and eating the correct amount. Opt for sustained energy by ensuring you always pair a carbohydrate with a protein or fat. This causes it to empty slower from your stomach, preventing you from having to eat often, and could assist with weight loss.
Remember that not all carbs are the same and you should use your common sense when choosing them. Moderation might sound “boring” and not “fancy” enough, but it is definitely the most sustainable way to eat in the long term. Aim to eat the way you think you will eat for the rest of your life e.g. eating pizza once a week might be okay, but definitely not eating pizza every day. Visiting a dietitian can help you determine exactly how much carbohydrate you would need to include to practice sustained healthy living.