Food

The Real Issues with Carbohydrates.

Issues

Healthy food rich in carbohydrates top view

In the health and fitness industry, we love to follow trends but this does generally hold for exercise. One such trend that has taken the initiative by storm over the last few years is the resurgence of the high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet, this includes the increasing popularity of ketogenic diets, paleo-style diets, and the Atkins diet.

Low-carb Diets for Diabetics

As a result, we have seen some serious backlash. Especially through the pure and utter demonization of all carbohydrates. In conjunction with the rising popularity of low carbohydrate diets, carbohydrates have been described as the root cause of obesity, metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), and cardiovascular disease. But despite recommendations of low-carb eating running rampant in the health and fitness initiative, the dietary guidelines still recommend that we get approximately 50% of our daily energy intake from carbohydrates!

With such conflicting information, it can be extremely difficult to make a well-informed decision on dietary carbohydrates, and their influence on health.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the important essential macro-nutrients. That we obtain through diet (in conjunction with fats and protein). Carbohydrates can be divided into three classes;

Sugars:

 These are short-chained carbohydrates found in foods (such as glucose). Most of these carbohydrates are broken down easily and absorbed into the bloodstream at a very rapid rate.

Starches:

 These are long chains of glucose molecules put together. Starches are commonly found in vegetables and are broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream at a very slow rate.

Fiber:

 Fiber is a form of carbohydrate found in whole foods that cannot be digested by the body, and as such, passes through the digestive system almost completely untouched.

Carbohydrates provide the body with energy. Once consumed, they are broken down into glucose, which is then moved to the blood where it is stored for later use in the muscle tissue and the liver.

Once those stores are full, glucose can also be converted to fat, which is then stored in the adipose tissue of the body.

Whole and Refined Carbohydrates.

It is important to note that not all carbohydrates are equal.

Carbohydrates can be described as whole carbohydrates or refined carbohydrates, and the way they each interact with the body once consumed differ greatly. Whole carbohydrates effectively describe those that come from whole food sources, such as vegetables, whole fruit, potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes, and whole grains. These foods contain mostly starchy carbohydrates, Refined carbohydrates consist of sugars, and it`s found in practically anything that was made in a factory (such as soft drinks, muesli bars, bread, pasta, fruit juices, and pastries).often with some fiber sprinkled in for good measure.

Refined carbohydrates are digested at an incredibly rapid rate and as such cause an extremely fast rise in insulin secretion after consumption (insulin is a hormone that causes the shuttling of glucose and fatty acids from the blood into the tissues where they are then stored).

Moreover, refined carbohydrates have in effect been stripped of all nutrients, and as such don’t provide the body with any vitamins, minerals, or fiber that are essential to its healthy and efficient function.

The high consumption of refined carbohydrates has shown strong associations with several health issues, including increased rates of obesity, an increase in the incidence of metabolic disorders and diabetes, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This is in stark comparison to whole carbohydrates, which contain an abundance of essential vitamins and minerals, and are absorbed very slowly – causing a very minor increase in insulin secretion.

Carbohydrates and Energy

It is important to note that carbohydrates (and the glucose they provide the body with) are essential to providing energy that is used to sustain high-intensity exercise.

Also considering that the brain uses glucose as its primary source of fuel, it doesn’t make sense to limit our carbohydrate consumption as it will seriously inhibit our capacity for physical activity, while also impeding our cognitive functioning.

Carbohydrates and Weight Gain

Just a quick note on carbohydrate intake and weight gain. Yes, high levels of processed carbohydrates have shown strong associations with an increased incidence of obesity, AND yes, reducing carbohydrate intake MAY result in weight loss.

But that does not mean that carbohydrates are the cause of weight gain.

By cutting carbohydrates from our diet we cause a subsequent reduction in our daily energy intake. It is this reduction that causes weight gain, and not the loss of carbohydrates specifically.

We as humans have been eating carbohydrates for thousands upon thousands of years, whereas the obesity epidemic that plagues our great nation only really started in the 1970s. This most likely correlates with increased production (and consumption) of refined carbohydrates and a subsequent reduction in the consumption of whole carbohydrates.

Summary

Carbohydrates are essential to providing the body with energy for exercise and can promote quality mental function.

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Alexander

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