Thursday, September 20, 2012

Carbs Carbs Carbs!!!

As I've mentioned before, we talked about Carbohydrates (carbs) in my nutrition class this week. As it turns out, many people have misconceptions about carbs. Some things people say are:

"Oh, carbs make you fat" or 
"Carbs are bad for you." or
"Don't eat carbs if you're trying to lose weight"

Well, I'm here to say that all of those are wrong. Carbs ALONE doesn't not make you fat nor hinder your weight loss efforts. In fact, carbs are essential to day to day living. It's nearly impossible to avoid carbs and our bodies cannot survive without them. Our brain and nerve cells need them, as carbs are the body's main source of energy. Even our blood needs them, in the form of glucose (there's a science behind this, but this is all you need to know for now). Carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and other sources. 
I can explain the science of carbs and how it's digested in our body, the types of carbohydrates and all of that, but I don't know if you guys want a science lesson. 

For now, I'll just tell you some things that can help with what most people want: Weight loss.

As you there, one diet that many people do is the low carb diet. One of the main low carb diets is the Atkin's Diet. 

I know, I know. You've heard people have lost weight on the low carb diet. It does sound really tempting. But, there's one thing you need to know: it's not fat that they have lost. It's even worse.
They lost muscle and water weight. Let me explain a little science behind this. 

As it turns out, the body needs carbohydrates to function. I know, big surprise. The body uses glucose as it's main source of energy, which is carbs. The body also uses fat, but carbohydrates is used the most, especially in more intense levels of physical activity. Glucose is easily accessible to use as a source of energy, not needing oxygen for it to be burned. Fat needs oxygen. That means if you're really physically active, you need to consume more carbs.

On a low carb diet, you deplete your body of the energy it needs, on the normal functioning level and on the exercise level. Have you ever felt tired and drained of energy after not eating for such a long time? That's your body running low on glucose. What's even worse is that if you're not eating enough carbs, your body tries to find another source of energy. 

You may think that the other source of energy is fat, but, wrong! The body will find other ways to make glucose to fuel to body and the first thing your body will use is protein to make it's own glucose. It will first use the available amino acids in your blood (which there isn't much). Then, your body will break down it's own tissue, including tissue from muscles and even our organs. This is called gluconeogenesis.  If done long enough, it'll damage your organs. On top of that, your body won't be making the proteins it needs since it's all being used to make glucose. You lose muscle, thus reducing your metabolism.

Another downfall to low carb diets is that it can lead to ketoacidosis. What that is is when there are unusually high amounts of ketones in your body. Ketones are acidic and can interfere with the body's normal functions due to the pH imbalance. They're produced when the body burns fat as a source of energy. High amounts of them can lead to coma and possibly even death. Ketones are produced in the process of ketosis, when there is low carb intake, fasting or vigorous exercise. They suppress appetite, cause dehydration and acetone breath (bad breath). You can usually tell if someone is on a low carb diet by smelling their breath, since low carb diet breath has a distinct smell.

As you see, yes, people can lose weight on low carb diets. But, it's unhealthy and it's not fat that people will lose. Once they bounce back to their normal eating habits after being on a low carb diet, they end up gaining the weight back and possibly gain even more since their metabolism slowed down due to muscle loss. It's not healthy and will not work in the long run. You need your carbohydrates and you can see why after you start exercising more, you tend to crave more carbs. Your body needs the energy.

Now that you know that low carb diets are fad, there is another thing you should be weary about when it comes to carbs. It's called the glycemic index. People tend to use this to see if certain foods are healthy for you. But, actually,  it measures how foods can raise blood glucose levels, which in turn triggers the surge of insulin. With insulin, blood glucose drops. The higher the glycemic index, the more potential it has to change blood glucose. 

However, there are two things to think about with the glycemic index. For one thing, it's not an accurate measure. It also depends on the type of carbohydrates, how the food is prepared, it's fat and its fiber content. On top of that, fructose has a glycemic level of zero, but it can still be unhealthy for you. 

Another thing too is that, the glycemic index was use to help diabetics treat diabetes. They constantly have to measure their blood sugar (glucose) levels and they need to know which foods can potentially change their levels. They need to consume more foods lower on the glycemic index so that their blood sugar doesn't change too much. However, normal people don't need to worry about this. Their body can handle it.

However, endurance atheletes, atheletes in general, may want to make use of this. They need the energy for their workouts. When I say energy, I mean the energy from carbohydrates. After they workout, it's best to consume foods higher in the glycemic level. They need to store the carbs so they have the energy for their next workout.

I guess that's all I'll talk about for carbs today. I don't want to make this too long of a post. But, I do want to stress that you should eat more whole grain foods, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread (with whole wheat flour or whole something as a first ingredient), and more fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Now, before I end this post, I have one more thing to say. You really do need more carbs, especially when doing intense workouts. I've been doing a lot more intense cardio sessions. I've been doing HIIT, running along the river, interval training on the elliptical and running around the indoor track. Today, I ran 4 miles in 32 min and 54 seconds! I also went on the elliptical for about 35 min and did around 3.7 miles. Sometimes, when I don't do the running, I do intervals on the elliptical for an hour. I do this along with HIIT. I've been craving more carbs! This includes cereal, bread, sweets and fruits. 

Anyway, I hope this helps you guys understand more about carbs. I'll post more about carbs later on. By the way, I am not a nutritionist/dietitian, but I am studying to become a dietitian. This is what I learned from my professor in my university nutrition class.

If you have any questions, email me. 

Do you like carbs?
How do you feel about carbs?


  1. ahhh thank you for posting this Helen! It is so awesome that you show others that carbs aren't bad for us! Of course, too much simple carb like white bread is unhealthy, but carbs in general, especially complex carbs, are so essential to our energy and well being....when I happen to not eat enough carbs in a day, my energy goes down the drain, and so do my workouts. Like I always say, moderation and self control! With some indulgences. :D Hope you're having a great day!

    1. Thanks Ellie! It's crazy what the media can post and how they depict things. People need to know the real information. and, yes. That happens to me too. Carbs are important (complex ones!). and, self control is so hard.


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