CARBS - a WHOLE new world!
Today let’s look at carbohydrates, our body’s main source of energy. I am a big advocate of Carbs but not the refined ones I vouch for WHOLE CARBS!
Carbohydrates for long have been associated with weight gain. Hence low-carbohydrate diets, especially those that avoid grains, are popular amongst people on weight control diets. But rather than focusing on lowering the amount of carbohydrates, we should focus on the type of carbohydrates in the diet. For example, whole grain foods are better choices than highly refined & processed foods such as white bread, pasta or or pastries!
A certain amount of fuel must be burned each day by the body for it to function correctly. The primary role of carbohydrate is to be that fuel which when burnt provides energy to all cells in the body. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (simple sugar), which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The pancreas sense this rise in blood sugar and release a hormone called insulin which facilitates the entry of sugar into the cells, where it can be used as a source of energy.
A quick look at the three types of carbohydrates.
1. Sugars (simple carbohydrates)
2. Starches (complex carbohydrates)
3. Fibres (complex carbohydrates)
Sugars and starches provide glucose, the main energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells.
Sugar is the smallest form of carbohydrates that our bodies use for energy. They are sweet to taste. Some are found naturally in foods such as fruits and milk and then there are added sugars eg. table sugar, syrups, fruit juice concentrates, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup.
All Sugars (simple carbohydrates) are quickly digested and absorbed by the body raising the blood sugar level and providing us with a short-lasting source of energy.
Starches are complex carbohydrates made up of many simple sugars linked together. They take time to get digested and absorbed hence slowly raise the blood sugar levels. They do not have a pronounced sweet taste.
They are primarily found in grains, vegetables (mainly corn & white potatoes) and legumes. Fruits and dark-green vegetables contain little or no starch but provide sugars and fibre.
Most starches are broken down to simple sugars by digestive enzymes. But some which are not broken down (called resistant starches) act as dietary fibre in the large intestine.
Fibres are the complex carbohydrates that cannot be digested or absorbed in the gut. But they are still vital due to their participation in important biological activities!
The beneficial effects include increasing the volume of faecal bulk, improving intestinal transit, decreasing cholesterol and blood sugar levels, trapping toxic substances in the intestines, stimulating the proliferation of the intestinal flora, balancing intestinal pH & making us feel fuller.
Also known as dietary fibre it is found in fruits & vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
Now that we understand better the different types of carbohydrates, are they all the same?
In Simple carbohydrates (Sugars) there are:
Added sugars which give empty calories and are the root cause of many diseases
Naturally occurring sugars present in fruits or milk are of higher quality because they provide certain amounts of vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients
In complex carbohydrates (Starches) there are:
Whole-grain foods like whole wheat, oats, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, barley, spelt, rye etc which contain all the nutrients i.e vitamins, minerals & proteins that whole grain has to offer
Refined foods like refined flour, white bread, pastries etc even though considered as complex carbohydrates they mainly contain the starchy part of the grain without the nutrients. They are faster to digest than whole grains. They cause weight gain, reduction in alertness, increase in fatigue, and promotion of diabetes and heart disease. The consumption of these refined foods leads to an increase in insulin levels in the body which causes the energy from the food to be stored more easily as fat. They also increase hunger and food cravings causing us to eat more!
Increased consumption of complex carbohydrates from whole plant foods:
contributes to greater satiety keeping us full for longer periods of time. Which means that snacking or binge eating habits can be stopped
gives us greater sustainable energy with the same food portion as refined ones.
leads to weight maintenance
may also reduce the risk of several chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer
Hence to stay healthy & prevent disease it is essential to choose whole foods.
So then what should you exactly eat?
Make healthier choices by using whole grains like whole wheat, oats, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, barley, spelt, rye, brown rice as the base of your meals. Combine your whole grains with lean protein sources (preferably of plant origin) and add plenty of vegetables. Avoid eating them with foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugars.
Important to know: If a sufficient amount of carbohydrates are not taken then the body must turn to proteins/fats. Using protein and fats as the main source of energy is not a good idea as they are not clean fuel! They may give short term results but they require more amount of heat and leave too much residue in the body which in the long term will lead to various health problems.
How to make that switch towards whole grains?
People who are not accustomed to eating whole foods especially grains & legumes should not switch abruptly to a 100% whole grain diet since it can cause some digestive issues such as bloating & flatulence. The transition should be gradual. For example, mix white & brown rice, or white & whole flour in the beginning and steadily increasing the amount of whole grains. I can assure that if you bear with this temporary & minor discomfort it will be quickly outweighed by the benefits you will obtain with the whole foods diet!
A few tips:
If you eat breakfast: Look for whole-grain products as healthy breakfast options. Wheat, oats, barley, rye can be eaten as whole grains.
Buy bread that lists whole wheat or whole rye or whole spelt or any other whole grain as the first ingredient & once you are ready to try the one that is made with 100% whole grains!
Don’t peel your organic potatoes!
Eat your fruits instead of juicing them
For lunch & dinner focus on using whole grains in forms of whole pasta, salad, flatbreads, or just steamed to be eaten with vegetables and legumes. Eg: Mixed bean salad made with couscous/ brown rice/ whole wheat pasta with cooked vegetables and cold-pressed olive oil dressing OR Lentils /beans vegetable curry served with brown rice/quinoa/wholegrain bread
Limit foods that are highly processed & refined because they will create a nutritional debt in your body by asking it to use more energy & nutrients to digest foods without getting anything in return
Every time you prepare yourself a meal please remember that a diet which is based on organic whole foods inclusive of grains, vegetables, fruits & right amount & quality of fats & oils can only lead you to health & not to weight gain.