There is no denying that carbohydrates are one of the most important nutrients required by the body. However, when you consider Atkins, Paleo, South Beach or simply a low-carb diet, most weight-loss methods talk about the superiority of protein and fat over the third macronutrient, carbs. Even so, you can cut down your intake of carbs, but eliminating it completely is a strict no-no and not a safe dietary measure. What you can do is know the difference between good and bad carbs and stick to the former.
What are good and bad carbs?
Carbohydrates are grouped into two categories – good (complex) and bad (simple) carbs. The good ones take longer to break down since they are created by three or more sugar chains linked together. Food items that contain good carbs are rich in both sugar and fiber, which help to raise blood glucose levels, thus becoming a fabulous source of energy that goes on for hours. Bad carbs are in their simplest form and don’t need to break down at all. They are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and provide short bursts of energy that don’t last long. Some examples are cookies, chips, soft drinks etc. Since the food and beverages containing bad carbs are more tempting, we tend to consume them on a regular basis, which can lead to sudden weight gain, increased risks of heart diseases, tending towards diabetes, and a host of other problems.
What can carbohydrates do for you?
The primary function of carbohydrates is to be the body’s preferred form of energy for your muscles, nervous system and metabolism. After ingesting carbs, the body breaks them down into smaller units of sugar and glucose and transports them to tissues and organs via the bloodstream. Glucose is vital for your central nervous system and acts as an immediate source of fuel. When energy needs are met, excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen. If there is a deficit in carb intake, the body senses the lack of energy so the liver breaks down glycogen to release glucose. This is done to restore glucose levels to brain, organs, and bloodstream. Carbs also contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
What happens when your system doesn’t get sufficient carbs?
Cutting down on carbs can lead to severe problems with the biological functions of your body by causing nutritional deficiencies – you could experience decreased physical performance, as well as mental and physical fatigue. As discussed above, your body starts using the stored glycogen to supply energy, but when it gets depleted and dietary intake of carbohydrate is inadequate, your body turns to dietary protein and fat as a source of calories. If the former is being converted into energy, it isn’t building and repairing tissue that could lead to muscle wasting, poor immune function and altered biochemical reactions. When fat is used instead of carbs, it gets broken down into ketones bodies resulting in a dangerous metabolic condition called ketosis. It violently disturbs pH of the body and can lead to bone loss, kidney stones, kidney disease and organ system failure.
What is the minimum requirement of carbs in the body?
The minimum recommended intake of dietary carbohydrate is 130 grams per day. Most health and government agencies suggest a carbohydrate intake of 45 to 65 percent of total calories with an emphasis on complex carbohydrates. It is recommended that the American diet consists of 10 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories or 20 to 30 grams of dietary fiber per day. You can cut out simple carbohydrates, like sugar, without deleterious effects while still consuming complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables or whole grains.
Be smart while cutting down!
The trick is to get rid of simple carbohydrates such as sucrose and lactose from your daily routine. A healthy way to cut simple carbs is to curb your intake of added sugars. Take the time to read ingredient labels, and note if a form of sugar is near the top of the list. Some pseudonyms for sugar are high-fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, invert sugar, molasses, sucrose, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup.
The best sources of good carbs
Here are a few suggestions to include in your daily diet:
Beans, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole oats, millet, whole-grain barley, pasta & corn, buckwheat etc. are considered to be healthy for the body as they are high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber. Eat breakfast cereals with more than 3 grams of protein and fiber that have less than 30 grams of total carbohydrates.
Fruits and Vegetables
They are rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, fiber and other essential nutrients. 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day should be enough – the goal should be consuming about 2000 calories. If you eat them with the skin, your intake of fiber-rich sources will increase.
Peas, lentils, beans, etc. come under this category as they contain high amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, while the fat content is quite low.
The bottom line is you can live without carbs, but only the bad ones, so try and incorporate as many good carbs as possible in your diet. Here too, you need to stick to a certain limit and not overdo it.