Time after time, I hear stories or read in the media, news of the latest weight loss diet, guaranteed to help you drop the pounds with results seen as soon as you finish off that plate of chicken salad. And time after time, I hear about how these diets have worked in the short-term, but long-term have been relatively unsustainable. As long as we are living in an era where a pizza can arrive quicker than an ambulance, the diet industry have got us exactly where they want us, eating out the palm of their hands… What works for me, is a balanced diet which includes all of the food groups, but being aware of what works well in my body, and what isn’t so beneficial for me… So before you enlist yourself on the next faddy diet, here is a closer look at the role of carbohydrates in the human body:
What do they do? Carbohydrates are metabolized into a form of sugar known as glucose providing the body and mind with a steady supply of energy. Interestingly, the physical body does not necessarily require carbohydrates to function properly, as energy can also be derived from fats and proteins, however, for proper brain function, glucose is essential and is rapidly used up during mental activity.
What happens when I cut out carbs? To break it down, carbs are made up of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, hence the name carbohydrates. Without carbs in our diet we are essentially limiting our brain of food. So, bring on the headaches, the lack of concentration, the mental fog, the fatigue and the poor memory. Sure, the scales may be your best friend during this low-carb wonder diet, but if you think that carbohydrates are made up of hydrogen (water), your weight loss is mainly due to the fact that every single cell in your body is losing water. And as the human body is made up of nearly 70% water, this component is kind of important to us.
The good carbs. Yes, there is some truth that cutting out carbohydrates can benefit weight loss, however, you need to familiarise yourself with what is meant by good carbs and bad carbs. Healthy carbs are termed as complex carbohydrates, as it takes a while for the body to break down the sugar molecule bonds and convert into an energy source. During this process blood sugar levels remain stable, and the brain is supplied with essential glucose as well as the feel good chemical, serotonin. So to keep the body and mind working effectively you should consider including these good-for-you carbs into your daily diet: whole grains (oats, rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat) brown rice, lentils, pulses, whole wheat/rye/granary bread, vegetables (brocoli, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, green beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts)
The bad carbs. Simple carbohydrates are the carbs we should be limiting or avoiding. As the name suggests, the sugar bonds are simple to break, therefore glucose is sent straight to the blood stream giving you an instant energy boost. Failing to use up this glucose injection (by doing some form of exercise) means that it stores itself in the cells of our liver and muscles as glycogen, patiently awaiting for another opportunity to get used up. However, our cells have a limit as to how much glycogen it can happily store, and anymore than required is deposited straight into adipose tissue (fat cells). With this in mind, the carbohydrates to limit are: sugar, white flour products (bread, pasta, pizza), chips, cakes, biscuits, fruit juices, soda, milk chocolate, and candy. Watch out for processed cereals and bars, ready-meals and low-fat diet products too.
The balance. Of course, I’m not suggesting never eating any of the foods that you enjoy, ever again. That food deprivation in itself is pretty unhealthy. However, if you habitually enjoy the simple carbs (as listed above) on a more than regular basis, you can see where obesity issues may arise. Thankfully, it is also possible to curb sweet cravings with healthier treats that are not loaded with sugar: dark chocolate or cacao is high in antioxidants and magnesium with a relatively low sugar content in comparison to dairy milk or white chocolate, berries can be enjoyed when sugar cravings arise, low GI agave nectar can be used as an alternative to sugar or honey, warm almond milk with a dash of agave nectar, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon can sooth a sweet tooth before bed without sending your blood sugar levels into overdrive, and why not try making your own homemade popcorn with vanilla or cinnamon.
For more information on food cravings, you can week last week’s article here.