It can be quite challenging for a lot of us to balance our meals. And carbs seem to be very often the most troublesome part of it.
First of all, I know that we can have a love-hate relationship with carbs.
They are stigmatised to be bad for us, so often we restrict them from our diets but we also love them for the comfort they give us, right?
So we go from, “I really feel like having a little bit of pasta, or a quick sandwich.” to “oh, no, carbs are not good for me, I know, they’re gonna make me put on weight.“
Restriction or overindulgence, most of the time we are fluctuating between the two extremes but rarely finding a proper balance.
COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING ABOUT CARBS
First of all there is a common misunderstanding about carbs. Oftentimes we think of them as grainy, floury foods. But it is not exactly the case.
Carbs are categorised as one of the three macronutrients. (We’ve already covered proteins in a previous blog).
They consist of: sugar, starch and fibre. Today we will be talking more about the sugar part.
Sugar, is another food that we have a funny relationship with. We know it’s not good for us and we attempt to restrict it, but we tend to get completely hooked on it.
Carbs are found not only in grains though, but also in vegetables, fruits and even some milk products.
So when people go on a low-carb or no-carb diet and they eat vegetables and fruits they still supply carbs to their bodies. It is usually grains that we cut out or restrict.
CAN WE APPROACH CARBS WITH A FRIENDLIER MINDSET?
Carbohydrates are very important for our body. They are our main source of energy.
Not only for running, walking, and other daily activities, but also energy used for our cells to function. There is a lot of activity going on in the body which is something that always amazes me. Right at this moment while I’m typing this blog my digestive system is working to break down breakfast, I’m breathing, my heart is beating, blood circulating and so much more is happening. All of these functions, performed constantly, require energy, so it’s highly important to supply our body with it.
If we don’t have enough energy from carbs, then our body will derive it from somewhere else, such as proteins. However protein has a completely different function. It is our muscle builder. The liver is not used to processing proteins as easily as carbs, so it puts a bigger strain on it.
Another important function of carbs is enabling fat metabolism.
Thus, we can’t just cut things out without knowing what the consequences could be.
BETTER CHOICES OF CARBS
Now, another division of carbs will be simple carbs, and complex carbs.
Simple carbs get into the bloodstream almost instantly. They spike our blood sugar levels immediately. Leading to blood spikes and sugar crashes.
Complex carbs on the other hand are the ones that supply more sustained energy, as sugar is released to our blood more regularly and consistently, keeping the blood sugar level balanced. (This is the explanation behind the debate of white bread vs. whole grain bread.)
Blood sugar rollercoaster causes cravings that can lead to eating more carbs than our body actually needs, gets us into a vicious cycle of sugar.
It can also have a big impact on other components such as hormones, immunity, stress levels, digestion, and weight.
HOW CARBS ARE PROCESSED IN THE BODY?
In a very simplified form the process looks like this.
Carbs travel to our intestines and from there it gets absorbed into our bloodstream and sent to the liver. There all the sugars get converted into glucose. Then glucose gets released back into the bloodstream and with a help of insulin enters the cells, where it gets converted into energy.
But our body not always needs all of the glucose we consumed right away. Whatever body doesn’t use can be stored in the liver as glycogen. Liver storage can fit up to 2000 calories of glycogen for when we suddenly need an additional boost of energy for example running to catch a bus.
If more glucose comes in from food to what can be stored as glycogen, then it’s stored as fat.
And that’s where the whole problem starts, that is when we actually gain weight.
As you can see the storage beyond what liver can fit happens when we eat too much carbs at the time or not the right kind.
If we eat complex carbs, and the sugar is processed slower and released to the blood slower, that means we can use it gradually. If the sugar comes from simple carbs, say white bread, it goes into the bloodstream so fast that there’s so much of it at a time the body cannot use it all. In that case it will be storing as glycogen and then if there is even more, as fat.
This process is important to understand and to be able to asses the amounts and type of carbs we eat.
Another super important factor is balancing carbs well in a meal with protein and healthy fats.
That could also slow down the release of sugar into blood.
SO SHOULD WE OR SHOULD WE NOT EAT CARBS?
I am sure you can see by now that carbs are definitely needed for the body to function properly. It is a very important component of each meal.
However, we don’t only need to eat grains to obtain carbs since we can also acquire them from vegetables and fruits and even some milk products.
Also consuming whole grains is a lot better option.
Just bare in mind that carbs affect individuals differently (bio-individuality) since our bodies process things differently and also we have different needs for energy.
Always test on your own body how you are feeling after different kinds of carbs, how they affect you and what amounts are good for you.