Are Carbs Bad?

Years ago it was fat that got a bad name for itself, and lately, it seems to be carbohydrates that are falling for the same misgivings so today we will aim to get a better understanding on if all carbohydrates are bad.

Low carbohydrate diets are all the rage now.  Shake-only meal plans.  Atkins diets.  Keto (Ketosis) diets.  They all aim to minimize carbohydrate intake in order to maximize fat loss.

While this can be effective in rapid weight loss, it’s not exactly sustainable though, missing out on important nutrients by limiting food types.

Let’s take a look at what we will call smart carbohydrates first.

Smart Carbs

Smart carbohydrates are just as the name suggests.  Carbohydrates that are good for you.  When looking at whether a food is good or bad we should be looking at what benefit it provides.

For example, you might be surprised to learn that fibre is a type of carbohydrate.  Most people would agree that fibre is a beneficial nutrient for our gut microbiome and not to mention our toilet habits.

Whole-grains are another type of carbohydrate that provides many micronutrients to our body.

While there are many types of simple and complex carb types, all carbs are broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) and sent to the liver to fill energy stores.

The difference between carb types is how slowly this process is performed.  Simple carbs such as sugar are broken down very quickly while slower digesting carbs such as oatmeal are broken down over a longer period of time.

After they are broken down and enter the bloodstream insulin is released to handle the resulting simple sugars.

The Insulin Factor

In the case of a large number of simple sugars, such as the 6 teaspoons of sugar found in your average serving of soft drink, there is little to digest so the simple sugars hit the bloodstream in large doses quite rapidly.

The problem with this is insulin spikes to accommodate this large increase, sudden load.  This can be beneficial at certain times during intense workouts, but for the most part, if we’re sitting at our desk working, or on the couch watching Netflix there is a little to no benefit to a large insulin spike.

The problem with the couch potato scenario is if your liver is already full, the glucose is instead transported to fat cells.  And this, therein lies how carbohydrates can add to weight gain and excess fat.

Carbohydrate Timing

So how can we use the information above to ensure a healthy, well-rounded diet including carbohydrates and still continue to lose or maintain weight?

Let’s recap and look over the important factors:

  • Simple carbohydrates (sugars) enter the bloodstream rapidly and spike insulin.
  • Complex carbohydrates take time to digest and break down so they enter the bloodstream at a slower pace resulting in a more event release of insulin.
  • Excess carbohydrate intake (when the liver is full) results in fat storage.
  • The liver and glycogen stores are full when we are inactive, in an idle state using little energy

Using this information we can form some basic “rules” around carbohydrate intake and timing.

  1. Reduce consumption of simple sugar-based carbohydrates (avoid soft-drink and fruit juice and eat whole fruit in moderation), or use them to fuel intense workouts only.
  2. Incorporate more movement into your day.  Basic walking and exercise will help deplete your liver stores which will help avoid carbohydrate intake “over-spilling” into fat stores.
  3. Fibre is an important form of carbohydrate that feeds our gut microbiome and plays a roll in other factors such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  4. Incorporate smart carbohydrate intake around breakfast and/or lunch time.  This will ensure you will have a steady supply of slow release energy available during times of peak demand.
  5. Reduce large carbohydrate intakes before periods of little energy such as a large pasta and ice cream for dessert at 8 PM for dinner, followed by hopping in bed at 9 PM for 7-8 hours of low energy demand where spillover is likely to occur into fat cells.

If you have ever experimented with carbohydrate-based diets let us know below and keep the conversation going!

Have you lost weight on a low-carb diet and if so has it been sustainable or do you find certain types of drinks or carbs help you perform better or worst at work?

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