Macronutrients! "No Carbs Before Marbs!"
With diets like the Atkins diet and phrases such as 'no carbs before marbs' carbohydrates have been demonised in todays society. However, many people do not fully understand what a carbohydrate is and which foods are classed as a 'carb'. Why have they been excluded and is it healthy to take carbohydrates out of the diet?
Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient and they control something called insulin. Insulin is the dude secreted from the pancreas in response to blood sugar levels and controls fat storage. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are converted by the body into another dude called glucose. Glucose, if not used immediately (during exercise for example) is stored by the body as glycogen in our muscles and liver. When these stores are full glucose is converted into little fellas called fatty acids and these are stored as…yes you guessed it fat!
When we exercise we deplete our glycogen stores, however if we do not do any physical activity, these stores remain full and our bodies store the excess glucose (once converted into fatty acids) as fat. To understand this better lets have a look at where we get our carbohydrates from.
Sources of carbohydrates are commonly gained from fruits, vegetables, grains and sugary foods. This is where carbohydrates get interesting! Carbohydrates are not straight forward, they can be split into four groups:
Monosaccharides and Disaccharides (these are classed as simple sugars)
These are often soft in texture like your white bread, baked goods, sweets and sugary drinks. Sugar and honey are also a simple carbohydrate. These carbohydrates are easily digested and cause a spike in blood sugar and a quick boost of energy, which is an advantage when competing in some sports events, but not for day to day consumption. Refined carbohydrates have been stripped of the fibre when they are processed, they are also lacking in nutrients. As much as possible these are the carbohydrates that should be avoided! Lets refine the phrase - 'No SIMPLE carbs before marbs!'
Oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (these are your complex carbohydrates)
The second type of carbohydrates are the complex carbs. Those in their natural food form which comprise of a long chain of simple carbs (three or more) linked together which is referred to as “complex”. These contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A good example of a complex carbohydrate would be brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, beans, peas and lentils. Fruits and vegetables are also technically made of simple carbohydrates but because they contain fibre, protein and other nutrients, they act more like complex carbohydrates in the body and therefore we should be looking to consume complex carbohydrates in our diet.
Carbohydrates are non-essential, in other words they do not need to be consumed for survival (unlike protein and fat). They offer 4 Kcal per gram of energy and as all carbohydrates are not created equally, they differ dramatically with the effect they have on our endocrine system, gut microbiome and metabolism.
Cutting out the simple carbohydrates in the diet is the best start for everybody. The processed and overly refined carbohydrates spike our blood sugar. We do not need to avoid carbohydrates though or demonise them. Carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils are a great addition to any diet. Diabetics are advised to look at a low carbohydrate diet to help stabilise blood sugar levels and cutting out the simple carbohydrates in my experience has had an amazing effect for diabetic clients as well as athletes who wish to perform and recover as best as possible, all the way to the client that has wished to lose weight and gain optimal health.
So, don't demonise carbohydrates, understand them better! Get your carbohydrates from good sources! Preferably vegetables and some fruits! You can't go wrong!