Carbohydrates are essential nutrients that provide energy to our bodies. They also play a vital role in maintaining good health. But did you know that carbs can cause problems too? In fact, they can even be harmful to your body.
Carbs come from foods such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, corn, beans, fruit, vegetables, milk, and yogurt. Carbohydrate intake should account for 50% or less of daily calories consumed. If you consume more than this, it may lead to weight gain, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health issues.
Let’s take a look at some important facts about carbohydrates, how they work, and what types of food to avoid.
What is a Carbohydrate?
A carbohydrate is any form of sugar that the human body cannot digest. The three main forms of carbohydrates include dietary fiber, starch (also known as complex carbohydrates), and sugars. Dietary fiber helps increase satiety, lowers blood cholesterol levels, prevents constipation, and promotes regular bowel movements. It also aids digestion by slowing down the rate at which food passes through the stomach.
Starch is found in grains such as wheat, oats, barley, rye, corn, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and teff. Starchy foods contain 4-10 times more dietary fiber than refined grain products. This makes them easier on the digestive system because starchy foods do not require an enzyme called amylase to break them down into simple sugars.
Sugars are present in fruits, milk, honey, and molasses. Sugars are one of the main sources of fuel for all cells including brain cells, muscles, and red blood cells. When glucose is stored in fat cells, insulin resistance occurs. Insulin resistance leads to abnormal growth of cancer cells.
Sugars give us energy and help regulate blood sugar. However, when we eat sugary snacks late at night or when we simply work from home with low physical load, the pancreas secretes insulin but does not recognize the insulin as being needed. As a result, blood sugar levels drop significantly and trigger hunger. This causes high-calorie consumption later on. This means an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
There are many ways to obtain carbohydrates. You can get them through cereals, pastries, bread, muffins, cakes, cookies, and desserts. Each of these has different nutritional values. You can even have balanced foods delivered to your porch. These are popular among busy people who want quick meals without having to spend time preparing them. It’s easy to satisfy your need for carb intake with convenience foods.
Reasons For Carbs Being Our Lifetime Friends
Not only do carbohydrates improve our overall health, but they also make us feel better physically, emotionally, and mentally. Let’s explore some of these reasons here:
- Improves mood – Eating carbohydrates boost serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates appetite and sleep cycles. A diet rich in whole grains provides adequate serotonin content.
- Lowers stress levels – Stress causes inflammation in the body. High amounts of carbohydrates decrease the release of cortisol, a hormone responsible for causing inflammation.
- Helps lose weight – A study published in Diabetes Care showed that restricting carbohydrates reduces leptin, the hormone responsible for regulating hunger. Leptin signals the brain to stop eating once energy reserves have been depleted. Therefore, consuming fewer carbohydrates increases the feeling of fullness.
- Boosts metabolism – Refined carbs tend to spike blood sugar levels quickly, leading to higher rates of insulin secretion. This can cause the liver to store fat, making it harder to burn those calories. According to research, people who eat high-carb diets tend to be smaller and leaner than those who consume low-carb diets.
- Enhances cognitive function – Carbohydrates reduce the levels of free radicals that damage neurons. A recent study showed that increasing the intake of carbohydrates improves memory and concentration.
- Promotes energy levels – There has been evidence suggesting that eating carbs throughout the day can help you stay awake longer. In fact, studies have shown that people who ate breakfast had less trouble staying focused during long tasks compared to those who skipped this meal.
- Promotes healthy skin – Consuming carbohydrates improves the production of collagen and elastin, two important proteins essential for maintaining the elasticity and firmness of the skin.
- Gives strength – One of the major benefits of carbohydrate consumption is its role in building bone mass. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that women with high intakes of dietary fiber were more likely to develop strong bones.
- Increases nutrient absorption – Whole grains increase the bioavailability of nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, vitamins B & C, and fiber.
- Contributes to healthy bowel movements – Increasing the amount of insoluble fiber in the diet lowers cholesterol levels and helps control glycemic response. Fiber from whole grains works well to get rid of waste from the gut.
- Reduces cravings – If we crave sweets, there may be something else going on in our bodies beyond just being hungry. The good news is that carbohydrates satisfy the craving because they contain no fats or protein. It feels great to indulge when the need arises but not when you’re starving!
- Prevents cancer – Foods high in carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, beans and cereal have been linked to lower risk of colon and breast cancers. These foods are packed with antioxidants that protect against cell damage due to oxidative stress.
Therefore, if you want a healthy lifestyle, start replacing refined carbohydrates with complex ones. They’ll give you all the benefits mentioned above without raising your risk of diabetes and other diseases associated with obesity.
How Many Carbohydrates Should I Eat Per Day?
According to experts, most people need to limit their carb intake to around 30 grams per meal and up to 100 grams per day. Eating fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates each time will keep your blood sugar stable.
Ideally, 45 to 65 percent of total calories should come from carbohydrates. According to the American Heart Association, if you consume more calories than the recommended amount, then you have a higher chance of gaining weight.
If you want to lose weight, then reduce your overall calorie intake and focus on whole grains, sweeteners, and low glycemic index foods. Try having oatmeal with berries, brown rice with broccoli instead of white rice with chicken, or pasta with tomato sauce.
Types of Carbohydrates
There are two categories of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates refer to those that release glucose quickly after eating. Examples of these include table sugar, white flour, white rice, white pasta, soda pop, biscuits, cakes, cookies, candies, chocolates, and crackers. These types of foods promote cravings and cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. They can be processed fast by our bodies.
Complex carbohydrates take a longer time to digest, so they give us sustained energy. Instead of releasing glucose immediately after eating, they convert to glycogen within the liver and are stored until needed. Examples of complex carbohydrates are whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, potatoes, fruit, and oats. In addition, some starches and resistant starch may also be considered complex carbohydrates.
When It Comes to Carbs, Choose Healthy Ones!
Incorporate more starchy foods like whole grains, legumes, and fruit in your diet. Fruits and veggies contain vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. Whole grains provide iron, protein, B vitamins, and zinc. Beans are rich in folate, which helps prevent birth defects; lysine, which boosts immunity; and plant sterols, which lower cholesterol levels. If you’re vegan, try soybeans or tofu. Both are good sources of protein and amino acids. Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and green peas are other great choices.