In today’s blog I am going to talk to you about carbohydrates.
I feel that this macronutrient is still one of the misunderstood of all and is fast becoming the most vilified.
With it quickly taking over from fat as the most hated of nutrients, I will take a look at what carbohydrates are and do they really deserve their modern-day reputation?
Carbohydrates: What Are They?
So, to keep this as simple as possible they are sugars contained within certain types of food that provide energy for the body.
The types of foods that carbohydrates are found in are:
- Milk products
They are called carbohydrates because whilst growing (or eating grass and grain) these food sources convert the sun’s energy to carbon and also contain hydrogen and oxygen.
When we eat them, we release the energy captured within which takes the form of sugar.
Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.
In the simplest of terms, when we eat carbohydrates, we release the sugar contained within. Our body converts this to energy in the form of glycogen which powers our muscles.
Any excess energy that the body doesn’t use right away can then be stored as fat within our bodies for use at a later time.
Different Types of Sugar
I think we can all now be happy that carbohydrate is essentially sugar but there are several different types which can be broadly broken into three distinct groups. From this we can also break the sugars into simple and complex.
Are made up of one sugar and are considered simple
- Galactose – found in milk products
- Fructose – found in fruit
Made from two sugars and are still considered simple
- Sucrose – table sugar
- Maltose – found in beer and some vegetables
- Lactose – found in dairy
Polysaccharides or starches
Made from three or more sugars and are considered complex. These are found in whole grains, lentils, beans, potatoes and vegetables.
These also contain indigestible polysaccharides also none as fibre. Fibre is essential to keeping the body healthy.
Simple and Complex
As I mentioned briefly before the sugars can be broken down into two groups called simple and complex.
This is more than likely terms you have across before but may not know exactly what they mean.
Simple sugars require little or no processing by the body and can be used as energy very quickly.
If you require a very quick energy boost, these sugars are perfect as they will provide that. However, when they are available for the body to use, they are floating around your blood raising your blood sugar levels.
If they aren’t used up very quickly, they will more than likely be stored as fat.
Essentially you are getting large influx of energy into the system all at once.
Complex sugars are just that, complex.
They require a lot more effort by the body to break down and so release energy far more slowly into the system.
This means you are more likely to require the energy and less likely to store it as fat. Because of this your blood sugar levels are more likely to remain constant.
Relying on simple sugars will cause you to have big highs and lows in your blood sugar throughout the day. This means your energy levels and mood will go through corresponding highs and lows as well.
This isn’t good as it may cause you to eat more simple sugar as you will crave it when you have low blood sugar.
Conversely when your blood sugar is high, it may cause you to retain the excess as fat.
It should go without saying but I will tell you anyway that you should try and get the majority of your carbohydrates from the most complex sources available to you.
Around about 10,000 years ago, humans discovered that they could irrigate land, plant seeds and grow corn-based crops. This meant that they didn’t have to hunt for food anymore and could support larger groups of people as food was much more available.
After this happened, the world’s population began to grow and continues to do so to this day.
Cereal crops give us cheap carbohydrates to live on and we can’t get enough of them.
Before the last war, farming methods were different in that they were small holdings geared up more for livestock rather than large arable farms.
After the war, with herds of animals gone, the skills of industrial companies that were building tanks and bullets only a few months previously, turned their attention to feeding people.
Food production became industrialised and a diet that once consisted of a good balance of the macronutrients (protein, fats and carbs) now became very reliant on cheap corn-based products.
In the 1970s advice was given by every government in the modern world that fat was bad and that we should rely grains much more.
It was thought that fat made us fat and was causing modern-day diseases.
This meant as consumers we started to buy highly processed, low fat food with added sugar. The problem is, when you remove fat from food it tastes pretty bad.
Over the next thirty years, instead of reducing or waistlines have increased by an enormous amount. Surly if fat made us fat, then cutting it out would make us thin?
Although government advice is still years behind, the common thinking is that sugar is to blame and I would say that I agree with this.
It’s a drug designed by nature to make us eat more of it.
If we artificially add it to pretty much everything we eat, we are going to want to eat more and more.
In the simplest of terms, this makes us gain fat.
Though I sometimes get fed up with people telling me that they are going to cut carbs like it is some magic pill which will make them thin overnight.
It isn’t this simple as your body will fight you every step of the way. It loves its sugar fix.
My advice is this:
Cut as much processed carbohydrate from your diet as possible.
Eat a balanced diet that can include natural carbohydrate which would include such things as potatoes.
Don’t get stressed about eating natural carbohydrates once in a while.
Eat things that are the closest to its natural form as possible. If you can’t tell what it was before it was killed or picked, then it is probably is heavily processed.
If you have any questions about any of the things I have talked about here then please leave a comment below.
Be all you can be