“No carbs before Marbs”, “The Atkins diet” … over the past few years carbohydrates have got a very bad press and are often the first things to go when embarking on a crash diet. But to exclude a whole food group which has some great nutritional properties is crazy, so let’s take a closer look at carbs and dispel some of the common myths around it.
The main problem for carbs is that they fall into two groups – the complex, or good carbs, and their cousins of lesser intelligence, the simple or bad carbs. Sounds like a scientific minefield but actually it’s pretty easy to navigate when you know how. In the most basic terms carbohydrates are our fuel. Just like petrol is to a car, carbohydrates are to our body. Our bodies break down the carbohydrate into glucose (blood sugar) and our body uses this sugar for energy for our cells, tissues and organs which we need in order to function. So no carbs is no good.
The best sort of “fuel” you can give your body is a complex carbohydrate. That means a carbohydrate which takes your body a long time to break down. They are made up of lots and lots of sugar molecules all strung together in a long complex chain (polysaccharides). Our body breaks off these sugar molecules bit by bit thereby slowly releasing energy throughout the day. This keeps blood sugars low and keeps your body working most efficiently – it’s your “super-unleaded petrol”. Food that fall into this category includes:
Simple carbohydrates are sugars that are made of just 1 or 2 molecules (monosaccharides). They are the quickest source of energy as they are rapidly digested. Now, not all simple carbohydrates are bad – fruit falls into this category. Having a piece of fruit before an exercise session will give you an instant hit of energy your body needs (fruit is also rich in nutrients and is loaded with fibre but that’s a whole other blog…)
But the reason simple carbohydrates are so bad for us is because it gives us such a quick release of glucose! This sends our blood sugar levels soaring and has to get insulin in on the act to help lower our blood sugar levels at which point you feel the “sugar crash” because our blood sugar levels have dropped. Our bodies then immediately crave sugar again to increase our blood sugar levels and so the cycle begins (repeat in excess = type 2 diabetes but let’s not go down that road).
The other issue with consuming simple carbohydrates is that we don’t need that much energy released into our system in one shot, so whatever doesn’t get used up converts to fat.
Some examples of Simple carbohydrates include:
Simple carbs such as white pasta, white bread, white rice etc. is so bad for us is because the grain has been broken down to its most simple form. So rather than letting our bodies digest it and break it down giving the slow release of energy, the manufacturing process has done that for us.
So complex carbohydrates are the way forward if we want our bodies running as clean lean mean dream machines- but do remember, even too much of a complex carbohydrate will get converted to fat if it’s not used – use it or lose it. So it’s about keeping that balance!!