The Truth about Carbs and Weight Management

Carbs have been getting the bad rap for weight gain. Over the years we have been told that rice, bread and pasta are bad for us. The no-carb diet is so brilliantly engineered to help people avoid carbs in their daily diets. What we have not been told is that our body (more specifically our brain and nervous system) needs carbs but we have been getting all the wrong kinds of carbs.

WHY WE NEED CARBS?

Carbs are the main source of fuel for human bodies, like petrol are for cars. Carbs are essential for our brain, nervous system and cellular functions. Other than carbohydrates our body uses protein and fats for energy. Since protein is the building blocks of our muscles and tissues, the body doesn’t convert them into energy unless if we are experiencing extreme famine. The brain and central nervous system solely depend on carbs for energy.

To be more specific, glucose – a single unit of sugar molecule – derived from digesting whole foods that are rich in carbohydrates and fibre are the preferred source of energy used by our brain and the central nervous system. That is also why we feel foggy when we are on a no-carb diet.

TYPES OF CARBS

Carbs are composed of single or multiple sugar molecules. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs are made up of single or double sugar units. Single sugar units are known as monosaccharides and a pair of sugar units linked by a short chain are called disaccharides. Complex carbs are long chains of sugar units, also known as polysaccharides.

Simple Carbs

There are 6 types of simple carbs and they are fructose, glucose, galactose, sucrose, maltose and lactose. Fructose is the sugar naturally present in fruits. Glucose is found in soft drinks, lollies and processed food. Galactose can be found in milk, some fruits and vegetables. Sucrose (fructose + glucose) is refined sugar. Maltose (glucose + glucose) is found in beer and spirits derived from malt. Lastly, lactose (galactose + glucose) is sugar found in processed milk products.

Simple sugars are easily absorbed into our bloodstream. Our bodies don’t need to work on them rigorously before it can use those nutrients. Glucose, for instance, are digested and absorbed in our mouth. They don’t pass through to the esophagus for digestion.

COMPLEX CARBS

Starch and fibre make up the complex carb category. Plants convert excess glucose into starch and fibre and store them in their leaves, stems and seeds. Starch and fibre are basically many glucose molecules that have been strung together in a long chain, like a beaded necklace. Our bodies take longer to break them down into glucose.

Fibre never gets broken down. They pass through our body with minimal change. Their role is to aid the passage of food through our digestive tract and out of the body. They are, however, the food source for healthy gut bacteria such as E.Coli and L. Acidophilus living in our large intestines. Feeding these gut bacteria with fibre rich foods is essential for a healthy gut and helps to avoid constipation and hemorrhoids.

Carbs and Calories

Our body is constantly burning calories for energy. We burn calories when our body is digesting food. The key to weight management is to pay attention to how much calories we are consuming versus how much we are expensing. A calorie-dense diet requires high-intensity work out to burn off the calories. Failing to do so, the calories get stored in our bodies as fats. This applies to all types of nutrients that we consume and not only carbs.

The two types of carbs identified above, affect our weight and health in different ways. Consuming simple carbs in its natural source is not harmful compared to consuming them in their processed concentrated form. For instance, High Fructose Corn Syrup, also known as HFCS, is added to frozen food and candies to heighten the taste pleasure as well as to protect the food from spoilage.

Yuck! Who feels hungry after seeing this gunk food!

HFCS is made by adding enzymes to plant starch to extract fructose. This ingredient is cheap to produce and it is so commonly used in packaged foods. Read the labels next time you go food shopping. You might end up being very unpleasantly surprised as to how much of it is being used by food manufacturers, even in cereals. And therein lies the answer to why you can’t lose weight. It is not because of carbs found in whole foods but because of the processed and frozen foods which have added sugar. So please think again before you pick up one of those boxes from the frozen foods aisle.

Simple and complex carbs found in vegetables, grains, seeds and legumes are the best sources of nourishment you can gift your body.

If you love your rice, try to opt for brown rice, wild rice or quinoa so very often in replacement of white rice. You can mix quinoa with white rice for a nice healthy stir-fry or salad. Whole grain bread is the best because they are made using the entire wheat plant. This includes the bran, endosperm and germ. The germ is the most nutrient-rich part of the plant which contains fibre and protein.

White bread is made out of white flour. The endosperm is grounded, bleached and enriched for softness and whiteness to produce white flour. Without enriching the flour, there are no health benefits.

Below is a list of complex carbs in no particular order and this list is not exhaustive. These foods were selected based on their fibre content per gram:

Moderation multiplies pleasures, and increases pleasure.

Democritus

That leads us to weight management and carbs. Moderation is the key to good weight management. Carbs are good for you but everything in moderation delivers the best pleasure in life – good health.

Invest time in understanding how much carbs your body needs. Around 45% to 55% of your daily calorie intake should consist of carbohydrates. Work towards getting that through a variety of food. Read the labels of the food you purchase. Eat whole foods, just the way nature intended it to be, and eat mindfully.

References:

Sizer, F & Whitney, E 2016, Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies, Chapter 4 The Carbohydrates: Sugar, Starch, Glycogen and Fibre, Cengage Learning, Australia

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