Carbs are not EVIL!!
Back in the 1970’s, fat was regarded as bad, in terms of cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart health. Margarine was touted as a “healthy” alternative (which it isn’t!) Fast forward to today’s latest nutritional fads and now high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diets are all the rage. Carbohydrate is currently regarded as a bad thing, leading to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory joint disorders, behavioural disorders and even some cancers. Let’s sort out the facts to determine what is really going on….
Types of Carbohydrates:
· Simple carbohydrates: these mainly come from fruit (fructose), dairy products (lactose) and sweeteners (sucrose). Maltose, glucose and dextrose are also part of this family. They are broken down by enzymes, rapidly absorbed in the small intestine and carried via the blood to the liver, which regulates carbohydrate metabolism.
· Complex carbohydrates: are made from multiple sugar molecules to form chains which form starches and fibre. You’ll find these in vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans. The absorption process is a bit slower and starts in the mouth by salivary enzymes, followed by the release of pancreatic enzymes before another enzyme release takes them to the liver for processing. These foods are known as low GI food (which means energy is released more slowly, keeping your blood sugar levels stable for a longer period.)
Carbohydrates have many important functions. These include:
· Release of energy to the body for optimal functioning. And carbs are the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. Pretty important for alertness, oxygen delivery and memory retention!
· Provide building blocks for the production of connective tissue, brain tissue and important nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA (the template for formation of all cells.) So think about pretty much any function in the body including skin health, muscle tone, memory and mood, temperature regulation, thyroid function and you need carbohydrates.
· Extra carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and is mobilised when needed. (“Carb loading” is often used by athletes for energy in endurance sports.)
· The fibre obtained from vegetables absorbs water and prevents constipation. It also helps to remove excess cholesterol in the bile to optimise the health of our heart and blood vessels.
· Many complex carbohydrates found in whole grains provide food to many of our beneficial gut bacteria, especially in the large intestine.
· Better sleep quality: complex carbs assist in the production of the hormone serotonin, which is needed for restful sleep. It also helps improve our mood as well; so important in the gloomy winter months!
If you avoid carbs long term, you will enter a Deficiency state that looks like this:
Ketosis: when dietary carbohydrates are lacking, fat stores on the body are used as an energy source. This has become a popular method for weight loss, but long term ketosis can lead to nausea, constipation, fatigue, weakness, vomiting, irritability and dehydration. The blood becomes more acidic through losses of potassium and sodium and can cause damage to tissues throughout the body.
When fats stored are used up, the body then starts mobilising protein from the muscles in a desperate attempt to find energy for the body.
To maintain energy and optimal health, choose root vegetables, wholegrains like rice, oats, quinoa; lentils, chickpeas and nuts. Avoid pastries, pasta, white bread, biscuits, soft drink, processed breakfast cereals. Bon appetite!