Welcome to part one of my 3 part nutritional series, I will be looking into carbohydrates, fats and proteins and the role they play in the body. Part 1 is all about carbs.
Carboyhdrates, carbs, it seems that many people have a love hate thing with them.
We all love to eat them, they taste damn good but too much of it can lead to a beer belly and a whole lot of fat which is hard to shift.
In this article I want to explore the role that carbohydrates have in the body and why we need it, I also want to look into how much carbohydrates we should be consuming and talk about what happens if we have too much or too little.
So firstly what are carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient just like protein, dietary fibre, fluids and fat are. Nutrients which are needed in large doses are known as macronutrients. So macronutrients aren’t actually the food themselves it is the nutrients in the food which are.
Macronutrient food groups are bread and cereal, dairy, meat, fruit and veg and then meat alternatives.
So for those of you that don’t know the types of carbs there are, they include:
• Fizzy Drinks
So you can see from that list that some of them are good for you and others not so good.
People go a little bit crazy with carbs sometimes, especially when they are trying to lose weight.
A lot of people try the low carb diet, this can be pretty damaging to the body. I tried a no carb diet for about 8 hours had a headache and no energy and thought that’s not for me!
Carbohydrates are our main source of energy, it’s like not putting petrol in the car, it’s not going to function properly before eventually giving up altogether.
You may hear some people say no carbs after 3pm. So basically that means you can’t eat any foods which contain carbohydrates in, which pretty much means that after 3 o’clock you can only eat meat and dairy, a bit stupid don’t you think?
These statements and advice about not eating carbs after a certain hour show a level of misunderstanding when it comes to nutrition.
We used to be told to have a high carb diet then people realised they were getting fat off carbs so they say now low carb, a lot of confusion!
What effects do carbohydrates have in the body?
As previously mentioned carbohydrates provide the body with the largest source of energy from the diet. Carbs are broken down after being consumed into something called glucose, the body then uses glucose to fuel all of the millions of functions and tasks which occur in the body throughout the day.
What’s the difference between refined and unrefined carbs?
Unrefined carbs are the ones that are untouched and natural like your fruits and potatoes and other veg. Refined carbs would be the processed ones like chocolate, sweets, bread etc.
Carbohydrates provide the body with the same four calories of energy per gram as protein does but it is the processed sugary part which makes carbohydrates cause fat gain and all of the other health problems that go with it.
How much carbs should we eat?
The people ‘in the know’ recommend that our diet is made up of 55-65% energy derived from carbohydrates, thatshould include 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day and 6 servings of wholegrain bread and cereal foods per day.
I agree with the fruit and vegetable part but the 6 servings of bread and cereals I think that is a little excessive. I also believe that 55-65% carb diet is a little too much too.
So we need carbs for energy, without it we’ll be tired, dizzy, have a lack of concentration and potentially faint.
Too much energy from carbs can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
So a balance needs to be struck and you need to eat more ‘good carbs’ than ‘bad carbs’.
Sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables, brown rice, basmati rice, oats, potatoes and wholegrain foods like pasta and bread is much better than the white versions.
Chips, white bread, white rice, pasta, fizzy pop, pastries, biscuits, sweets, chocolate, crisps.
These foods are high calorie and offer hardly any nutritional goodness, their basically empty addictive calories.
Most people struggle to hit the 5 servings of fruit and veg per day (good carbs) but I bet a lot of them hit 5 portions of bad carbs.
If your carbohydrates come from the good carbs source providing that you train well and your diet is good you will be healthy, have minimal fat levels and have loads of energy.
If you eat more from the bad group it is more likely that you will store fat easily, get short bursts of energy followed by a crash, be tired a lot of the time and be on the road to more health problems and obesity.
Sugar is the main problem, sugar is what makes a lot of us fat and big companies are making big money from selling their sugary products.
Carbohydrate food sources aren’t the enemy it’s the processed stuff packed with sugar and salt which is ultimately killing us.
When we consume a lot of sugar and high processed stuff they are absorbed rapidly into our blood stream which raises our blood sugar levels. If we don’t use this energy it is stored as glycogen, if the body has enough glycogen then it will get converted and stored as fat. This can also eventually lead to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
In a sporting sense endurance athletes will eat a lot of carbs for the energy but as they burn up so much energy by the high mileage they won’t store it as fat.
So how much you train will influence how much carbs you should intake. Basic rule is the more active you are the more you should eat as you need more energy. Have more carbs on training days and less on days off.
Okay so there was a fair bit of information there for you to take in so just so there’s no confusion I want to sum up your take home points about carbohydrates:
1. We need carbohydrates to survive and give us energy
2. There are good carbs (potatoes, fruit, brown rice) and bad carbs (chips, white bread, sweets)
3. Refined carbs are heavily processed and you need to stay away from them. Go for the unrefined ones which is full of much needed fibre.
4. In the 30 minutes after exercising it is a great time to eat carbs, a piece of fruit is perfect as the sugar will go straight into your working muscles (I didn’t mention this in the article).
5. Carbohydrates are a vital part of the human diet alongside proteins and fats.
I hope this has helped and there’s a lot more info about carbohydrates I could have shared but wanted to keep it short(ish). Stay tuned in the next few weeks to hear about fats and protein.
Take care and as always any questions please comment below or get in touch with me direct.
Jamie ‘Carbs aren’t all that bad’ Stedman