WHAT ARE THEY?
HOW WE USE THEM & HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES
WHAT ARE CARBOHYDRATES?
(Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen = Carbo-hydrates)
Carbohydrates, along with fat and protein, are an essential macronutrient that your body needs to function. They are a combination of starch, sugars and fibre that when broken down provide energy for the body. They are mostly made up of sugars, but not all carbs are equal! They are broken up into two categories.
Simple Carbohydrates - Fast digesting, these sugars are glucose, fructose & sucrose (combination of fructose and glucose). Found in natural sweet foods like honey and sweet fruit and processed food with refined sugars from plants like sugar cane, corn and sugar beets. Refined carbs and processed foods are very high in sugar, containing no fibre or essential nutrients.
Complex Carbohydrates - Take a longer time to digest, sugars naturally occurring in whole foods and grains, many with prebiotic properties that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Whole foods are also high in fibre and nutrients, and make us feel fuller for longer.
The body breaks down and converts most carbohydrates into the sugar glucose. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and the hormone insulin then helps it travel into the cells of the body where it can be used for energy.
HOW WE USE THEM
Carbs are our bodies primary source of energy. They fuel your muscles, heart, kidney, brain and central nervous system. But your body does not necessarily need them, without carbs your body will use protein and fat for energy.
Most people will need to go under 50 grams of carbohydrates a day to begin the process called ketosis, which occurs when you don't have enough sugar (glucose) for energy, so your body uses stored fat causing ketones to build up in your body. Without glucose for fuel, your liver turns fat into ketones and sends them into your bloodstream, where your muscles and other tissues can use them for fuel.
In the early stages of our evolution fat was the primal primary source of energy for the body, so it's a very natural state for the body to be in. This was before we had an abundance of carbohydrates and sugar, so when we eliminate the sugar, the body has to revert back to this primal state for its fuel source. The Keto Diet is currently very popular for people wanting to lose weight and eliminate excess fat but is not for everyone, if you have underlying health conditions, you should consult your doctor before beginning any kind of elimination diet.
You don’t have to cut carbs out of your diet completely, although a healthy balanced diet should eliminate all refined carbs like bread, cakes, pastries, sweets, sugary drinks, white pasta, white rice, white flour, many breakfast cereals and desserts. Just avoiding processed foods and added sugars is a good start.
Diets high in sugar put stress on the body's mechanism for regulating blood glucose levels. When there is too much sugar the hormone insulin signals to the liver, muscles and fat cells that it’s time to store the sugar as energy in our fat cells. If we consume too much sugar on a regular basis the fat cells run out of space to store the excess energy, then the sugar enters the bloodstream directly and the effectiveness of the insulin declines. This results in insulin resistance, which is the precursor for diabetes. There are many health risks associated with consuming too much refined sugar and significant links to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic disorders.
Our bodies do not need the excessive amounts of hidden sugar we eat in carbohydrates. If you are including carbs as part of a balanced diet, then switch refined and processed carbs for complex carbs found in healthy whole foods and grains. If you are on a Low Carb or Keto Diet make sure you are getting enough fibre from non-starchy vegetables, flax seeds, some fruits, avocados, leafy greens, cabbage, coconut, chia seeds and nuts.
HEALTHY CARB ALTERNATIVES
Switching refined carbs for healthier ones, like whole grains, nuts and fruit and naturally occurring sugars, will benefit your health, brain function and energy levels.
Swap pasta for vegetables. You can spiralize almost any vegetable into a spaghetti and eat it in the same way you would with pasta. I love courgette spaghetti but you can use most vegetables, experiment with your favourite ones. Spiralizers are very cheap, quick and easy to use and are sold in most large supermarkets.
Substitute rice for cauliflower or broccoli rice. Again you can try to use different vegetables, grate them or put them in a processor and cook them in a pan with spices, herbs or other foods you usually cook with rice.
You can also substitute bread for low carb crackers, there are now many different types of healthy and raw crackers available in the shops. Or find a recipe and make your own at home!
Replace crisps and carbs snacks with vegetables, you can slice them and cook them the oven to dry it out with salt or different spices.
Remember Carbs are Sugar! You don’t need to cut them out of a healthy balanced diet completely to stay healthy, but limit your intake and stick to complex carbs in healthy, whole foods and grains.