In the world of low-carb dieters, carbs are demons! But are carbs as bad as they’re portrayed? This blog will differentiate fact from fiction.
As a nutrition coach, I’ve heard this statement at least a hundred times: “If you want to lose weight, cut back on carbs.”
We all want short-cuts to achieving the body we’ve always wanted, even if the suggestions we get are, in reality, simplistic sound bites. Though these statements sound cool, they are totally out of touch with the biological complexity of our incredibly complicated bodies!
So, are and can carbohydrates really be good for us? Or should we completely avoid them, if we want to lose weight? Let’s dig deeper!
Why you need carbs
You’ve probably heard of macronutrients. We call them “macro” because we need them in larger quantities. Carbs, just like fat and protein, belong to the three of the macronutrients we need to consume daily.
The fact is, without an adequate amount of macronutrients, we cease to exist. So we need carbs, protein, and fat to survive.
Most of us need some amount of carbohydrates to function at our best over the long term. Though temporary carb restriction can help us to lose weight, the long-term carb restriction has catastrophic consequences on our bodies and minds.
So, if you’re active and if you exercise regularly, your low-carb diet can:
- Weaken your immune system. This leads you to become sick often.
- Decreases your thyroid output. The reduction of your thyroid hormones causes havoc on your blood glucose level and affects your metabolism negatively. This entire process makes it difficult to regulate your weight!
- Causes mood swings
- Impairs your cognitive function. This means you’ll have difficulty to learn, remember, pay attention or even to solve a simple problem.
Overall, long-term carb deprivation can make you sick, lousy, sluggish and totally stressed out! Not so ideal, right?
And apart from these things, there are many more body functions that are affected due to a low-carb diet.
“Wow, I didn’t know that carbs are so important; does that mean that I should gorge on carbs now?”
Nope, carb requirements depend on the gender, age, physical activity, your goal (whether or not you want to lose or gain weight) and even, to a certain extent, your genetics! Yep, some can tolerate carbs better than others.
When it comes to carbs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It all boils down to the criteria mentioned earlier. However, if you have a desk job or work in an office, then you probably don’t need as many carbs at every meal.
Are all carbs equal?
Wait, before you run to grab a bagel or some chips, know that not all carbs are equal. The wrong type of carb can harm you more than it helps you. Be extra careful when you select carbs because there are two kinds: simple and complex carbs.
Simple carbs are simple in their molecular structure and can be digested and absorbed pretty quickly. You can find them in most processed foods like sugary drinks, white flour, white rice and sugar. This type is great when you need an instant energy boost like during iftar or after a long run!
But they’re not so great when you eat them regularly. Regular intake of simple carbs causes big spikes in your blood sugar level. When your blood sugar level is high, more insulin is secreted to absorb the blood sugars to save it as fat storage.
When this happens too often, it isn’t ideal to become lean and healthy!
Complex carbs, on the other hand, are complex in their molecular structure and take much more time to digest and absorb. Therefore, they can provide you with energy for a longer time without increasing your insulin spike.
They are found in most whole foods, vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. Since they are also full of great nutrients, your body needs, make sure you include them at every meal.
Low-carb diets and weight loss
“But Rushdhi, I know many people who lost weight by following really low-carb diets”.
Yes, it’s true, you can lose weight quickly through low-carb diets; however, not eating enough carbs based on your body’s requirements and persisting in following this diet for a long time has many consequences as discussed above.
The truth is eating an appropriate amount of complex carbs can not only help you become lean and healthy, but it can also help you feel and perform your best!
What you can do
As a first step towards a healthy life, replace your simple carbs with good-for-you complex carbs. This single step alone will perhaps protect you from many modern diseases, bi’idnillah!
As a rule of thumb, stick to a ½ cup of carbs a meal. But again, it all depends on many factors, and this cannot be generalised for everyone.
Questions: If you have carbs, are you consuming the right type and for the right reasons? Are you aware of your carb requirements?