Come on guys – lighten up! Carbs are not your enemy!
Carbohydrates are arguably the most misunderstood of the three macronutrients, vilified and restricted in some groups, whilst being favoured and promoted in others.
Carbs, just like any other food stuff, are neither “good” nor “bad”, how they are integrated into our diet determines how healthy they are, not what the internet, media or your favourite reality TV star says.
In this article we’re going to cover the various roles of carbohydrates within our body, why they may be perceived as “good” and “bad” and how you can use carbohydrates to fuel yourself in a healthy, unrestrictive way!
Our body and carbohydrates
The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide your body with energy, either presently (when consumed), or in the form of stored carbohydrate (glycogen) which can be used when needed. These stored carbohydrates are kept within your muscle but also within your liver too.
Additionally, certain forms of carbohydrate, namely fibre and other more complex carbohydrates, can aid in digestion, with adequate fibre intakes being associated with a reduced risk of obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease.
Carbs may also contribute uniquely beneficial roles for those looking to manage their weight (in addressing cravings, reducing stress, improving satiety etc.).
Whilst carbohydrates are not necessary in our diet (as we are able to create them ourselves), that does not necessarily mean they are not optimal for health.
How they affect our health though is dependent on how we incorporate them into our diet as carbohydrates come in two predominant forms: “simple” and “complex”.
The good, the bad and the form of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates come in all different shapes and sizes (or to be more precise, lengths) and serve many different functions.
The “simple” carbohydrates are those most often associated with being “bad” whereas the “complex” carbohydrates are those we associate with being “good”. All forms of carbohydrate have a place in our diet.
The “simpler” a carbohydrate is, the more rapidly it can be digested, broken down and absorbed into our system. This leads to an elevation in our blood glucose (sugar) levels which leads to a subsequent rise in insulin secretion. Insulin is a hormone which signals to our cells to take in the circulating blood sugar where it can then be used as energy or stored.
Long term, repeated exposure to simple carbohydrates has been associated with an increased risk of being insulin resistant which eventually leads to metabolic dysfunction and diabetes. Whilst this is certainly a factor, it is not as straightforward as simple carbohydrates can cause diabetes, this condition is the end result of many lifestyle factors (including obesity, lack of exercise, inadequate fibre intakes, poor sleep, hygiene etc.) which likely play a much more important role than carbohydrates themselves.
Additionally, these “simple” carbohydrates are not all “bad” and, again, it is not their inclusion in our diet which is necessarily bad, but rather how we incorporate them into our diets. After all, who could imagine a winter-warming soup without an element of carbs?
Many people will restrict foods which contain these carbohydrates and these highly restrictive behaviours can lead to bingeing/overeating of said foods, which can ultimately contribute to weight gain, as well as poor relationships with ourselves and our diet.
Remember, if you suddenly decide to exercise more than before, these type of carbs will give you energy, which you must have.
On the flipside of the carbohydrate spectrum we have the complex carbohydrates, these do not need much defending as important components of our diet considering what was mentioned previously around fibre, but other complex carbohydrates play important roles too!
Try this Creamy Vegan Quinoa, Chard and Chickpea soup recipe!
They take longer to break down and appear in our blood stream as glucose, and so provide a more stable source of energy for our body. This helps to maintain energy levels throughout the day, conk out our cravings and helps us to concentrate!
Why carbs are our friends
Carbohydrates come in a whole variety and to loop them all into being “good” or “bad” is a gross simplification. All carbohydrates are important and it is not what we’ve been told about them that matters, it’s how we use them within our diet that determines how healthy they are.
Carbohydrates, like any other nutrient or food group, should not be restricted. Restriction causes more harm than good in almost all cases (unless it is for a specific medical condition) and can lead to binging, poor relationships with self and food as well as missing out on the experience’s foods can offer and compliment.
You would not have Christmas without some chocolate or Halloween without the candy, right?
As a New Year’s resolution, make carbohydrates work for you. If anything, incorporating them into your diet the right way will elevate everything else in your life!