Carbs – friend or foe?
Carbs are an essential part of the human physiology. Your body naturally uses carbohydrates for energy, and they’re important for cellular function — but there’s a big difference between complex carbohydrates from whole foods versus simple carbohydrates. The truth is that people are eating way too many simple carbohydrates in their diets per day, resulting in the most notorious modern illnesses, weight gain and a bad reputation for carbohydrates in general.
The Truth about Carbs
Lately, there is a constant weight loss buzz that discourages eating carbs. However, it is imperative to clarify that carbohydrates are not evil. We’ve seen the low-carb diet fad with diets like Atkins, the South Beach diet, Paleo diet and ketogenic diet today, where some of them have sort of painted carbohydrates in a bad light.
The most obvious effect of low carb diets is that they jump start metabolism, generate heat and dryness in the body, and contract tissue which ultimately result in weight loss.They are most appropriate for overweight individuals who have a very slow metabolism, which suffer from internal cold and excess dampness, do not digest carbs well or gain weight almost instantly with eating carbs.
Low carb diets are an extreme solution for an extreme condition, and in that sense they can be truly healing. But for less extreme conditions, consuming complex carbohydrates in appropriate amounts will create long term balance, health and stability.
A key concept to be aware of is that eating less of good whole food carbs doesn’t always translate to better health and performance. Going too low-carb and/or choosing poor sources of carbs can negatively impact mood, cognitive performance, aging, hormone imbalance, sleep quality and recovery from exercise. In fact, cutting carbs too low could negatively impact thyroid function. This can lead to unnecessary weight gain, fatigue, brain fog and low mood.
For the most part, people that carbs cause them health trouble, such as obesity and body channels obstructions (ex. diabetes, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, and many more health conditions related to blocked body channels) eat the wrong carbs. Once food, especially grain, is either stripped from its diversity of nutrients or is milled into flour, it becomes gooey as glue and is very difficult to pass through the body channels, while grains in their natural form pass easily enough.
Think of the digestive tract as your central channel, around 2 inches diameter. Whole grains in granule form just pass easily through, while bread, pasta and pastries transform into thicksticky dough and stagnate. The same happens in all the other channels of the body, since the food we eat, although this is hard for us to perceive, retains a lot of its basic qualities, even after it is broken down and digested, and especially if is not broken down sufficiently, and infiltrates the body to stick and block internal passages.
So by eating carbs in their natural form, you get all the great health benefits of carbs, without blocking your system.
Simple carbs (sugars): which are sweet, small-chain carbohydrates. Some prime examples of sugars are glucose, sucrose, galactose and fructose.
Complex carbs: composed of long-chain glucose molecules, which get broken down gradually into glucose in the digestive tract.
Fiber: a carbohydrate which we do not have the capacity to break down. However, our gut bacteria have the capacity to extract some of that fiber as fuel and convert it into short chain fatty acids.
Simple carbs, known as sugar (raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, date syrup, agave syrup, rice malt, molasses, Jaggery) should be dealt with respectfully. It is powerful stuff. Sugar should be routinely avoided by everyone, since it causes serious health damages. Probably the major drawback of sugar is that by raising the insulin level, it inhibits the release of growth hormones, a situation that in turn depresses the immune system. If one is to use it at all, it would probably be least harmful if consumed in the same way as salt, a teaspoon a day, hidden in various foods, so it is not concentrated. Occasional use of sugar, in very small doses, could be tolerated and will not provoke damage.
What makes complex carbohydrates so healthy?
Complex carbohydrates from whole food sources, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit also contain fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The diversity of nutrients in whole foods work together to properly nourish the body, and at the same time moderate the rhythm of glucose entering the blood stream, providing steady energy and preventing high insulin peaks.
However, it would do injustice to some people to simply claim that the more complex the carbs – the better.
For the sake of losing weight and treating health issues that are related to obstructed body channels, there is no doubt that complex carbs in the form of natural whole grains, legumes and vegetables are the only type of carbs that should be consumed, mostly because of their high fiber content.
On the contrary, for weight gain, lean people, the very young and the elderly, and for anyone with a delicate and sensitive digestion, the more polished, husked grains, peeled vegetables and fruit and generally less fiber is of choice.
4 scales for grading carbs
1st scale: the fiber content and nutritional value: the more natural the source, the better
Whole, unprocessed carbs are considered healthy carbs. Some examples include sweet potatoes, potatoes, bananas, brown rice, yucca, legumes and dates. All these foods have their nutrients intact and have been minimally altered to impact the nutritional value of the food.
Refined carbs are carbohydrates without the fiber content present. They have been altered in such a way that the processing method strips the food of the many key vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids. Examples of refined carbs include fruit drinks, white flour, white rice, white pasta and pastries. Refined carbs cause insulin level spikes and should be consumed only occasionally. As mentioned above, and although refined carbs are nutritionally inferior, some people cannot eat whole grains and legumes and will manage best with refined grains and a low fiber diet.
2nd scale: gluten content
For people who are either gluten sensitive or intolerant, the glutinous grains should be avoided: wheat, spelt, rye, kamut, barley and oats to some extent. This approach is only one side of the story. For any food sensitivity, including gluten, the central reason would be a weakness of the digestive capacity. So the first approach, of avoiding foods that are not successfully digested, is concerned with matching food selection to digestion ability. Many times this is essential, although it minimizes food diversity. The second side of the story is to augment digestion capacity, making it possible to digest foods that are regarded as difficult to digest.
Gluten is a tough protein to digest, but rather than avoiding it, one can strengthen digestion and discover that gluten causes no harm. On the contrary, it is a very nutritious and valuable component of health. People with a strong digestion could practically digest any type of food, no matter how bad its reputation as an allergen and such. This approach may not work for people who are intolerant, such as in celiac disease (although still possible!), but certainly can help people who are merely sensitive.
Strengthening digestion is a major topic which involves changes in eating habits, the use of medicinal herbs and supplements.
3rd scale: processing of carbs, especially grains
Grain witch is milled into flour will have a different impact on the body compared to whole grain in its natural form. Eating flour products contributes to weight gain, especially if the product is low in fiber, such as durum flour pasta. Flour products have a thickening and expanding effect upon the body, while natural form grain is relatively more contracting.
Sometimes people who feel sensitive to gluten (but are not diagnosed as intolerant) discover that the problem is not the gluten itself, but the processing of grains. Wheat bread, which is thickening and sticky, may cause them a sense of indigestion, while wheat in the form of bulgur will feel perfectly digestible. For others, flour products, especially the refined variety, will be much easier to digest. This is very noticeable among children, and adults, who feel best eating white rice, pasta, cuscus and rolled oats. Children’s digestion develops over the first 7-8 years of life, so as long as digestion is weak, children prefer less fiber and roughage in the diet, hence the love for pasta, plain white bread and the avoidance from vegetables and sometimes also fruit. Eating these foods alone serves as a safety mechanism from indigestion and the illnesses it may create. Once digestion ripens, the children, whom are now reaching puberty, start to naturally diverse their food choices and widen their diet. For some adults, digestion never ripens completely, so they adhere to their childhood preferences to avoid indigestion, which is a super important ingredient to overall health.
4th scale: digestibility of carbs
The more carbs are rich in fiber, the harder they are to digest. Brown rice will be harder to digest than white rice, whole wheat noodles will be harder to digest than durum flour noodles, unpeeled vegetables and fruit will be harder to digest than peeled.
So what am I supposed to eat if I crave sweet very often?
A daily need for concentrated sweet foods usually indicates an imbalance. The initial recommendation would be to lead a balanced lifestyle (exercising, eating at regular hours, getting enough sleep) and simply to eat real food. Sometimes the need for sweetness is simply from malnourishment.
The list of carb foods below is arranged from the usually safe down to the least recommended:
- Starchy whole grains: all whole rice variety, barley, spelt, rye, whole wheat, whole oats, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, amaranth, sprouted grain breads.
- Sweet boiled vegetables: carrots, pumpkin, onions, sweet potato, etc.
- Sweet vegetable jam / sweet vegetable drink
- Starchy refined grains: white rice, rolled oats, rolled spelt, bulgur, semolina, kuskus
- Processed grains: bread, noodles, pasta
- Fruits: fresh, baked, cooked
- Dried fruits: cranberries, blueberries, cherry, raspberries, apricots, plums, raisins, dates.
- Rice/barley malt
- Natural fruit concentrate (apples, cranberries, cherries)
- Maple syrup
- Molasses without sulfur
- Date syrup
- Brown sugar
- White sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose
- Artificial sweetener
How Many Grams of Carbs Per Day Do You Need?
It depends on your health goals and body type. Everyone’s carbs needs vary upon many factors like sex, age, body type, activity/training level and metabolic health. On a typical, healthy diet, you want complex carbohydrates to be about 40-50 percent of your overall intake of calories, another 25-30 percent from protein and another 25-30 percent from fat. This moderate division makes it easy to sustain balance. Some people may consume a greater percentage of healthy fats if the goal is to become a fat burner. If you’re really trying to gain muscle, you may need more grams of protein per day as well.
In general, how many grams of carbs per day you should consume is probably going to be in between 600 and 1000 calories from carbohydrates, and that’s typically about 150 to 250grams of carbohydrates per day.
For the general public looking to slim down, a range of 100–150 grams of good carbs is ideal for most to support energy levels and overall vitality. This comes out to be roughly 15 percent to 30 percent of one’s total calories coming from healthy carbs.
Individuals who are athletes or fitness enthusiasts, who are training intensely, tend to require more carbs to assist in recovery, muscle protein synthesis and hormone support. These individuals would require 200–300 grams of carbs per day.
Individuals who have metabolic issues like type-2 diabetes tend to gravitate toward a low-carb foods approach. They should consume between 60–90 grams of carbs per day.
Ultimately, carbs are not the enemy!
Carbohydrates have an essential and crucial role in both physiology and mental aspects of health. For many overweight strugglers, choosing the right carbs can make all the difference. Consuming only grains in the form of granules, and refraining totally from all simple sugars and flour products is many times good enough. Grains such as brown rice and grey barley grits breakdown gradually and create a mild blood glucose increase which benefits energy levels, concentration, stamina and a stable mood. Other more protein rich grains such as buckwheat and quinoa digest easily and keep the body light. So keeping these carbs in the diet is often the best solution for losing weight gradually and for easily maintaining the desirable weight over time.