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Author: Alex Borja
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Everyone has heard of carbohydrates and it is often a word that has gained much negative attention due to poor marketing and advertising for fad diets out there. The truth is that carbohydrates are a very important part of our daily diets and we depend on them for several reasons. Much of the carbohydrate “scare” is undoubtedly due to the misinformation about this important nutrient.
So what are carbohydrates exactly?
Carbohydrates are organic compounds consisting only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They are used by the body as fuel whether it is for muscle movement or thinking power for your brain. Many have become accustomed to the idea that carbs should be avoided altogether for fear of weight gain. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let me explain why.
When you gain weight it is not necessarily due to excess carbohydrate intake, but an increase in overall calories in a given time frame. Many people watch their caloric intake in reference to a 24 time period or the total amount of calories in one day. What people don’t realize is that you can gain weight from fat and protein all the same! If the amount of calories going into the body is MORE than your daily expenditure of calories, you will gain weight. If the amount of calories going in is LESS than your daily expenditure of calories, you will lose weight. It’s that simple and yet that complex.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal as they vary in structure. Think of carbohydrates as being split into two major categories, simple and complex. Simple carbs are, as their name implies, smaller and can be found in products such as candy or honey. These carbohydrates don’t take a long time to be broken down by the body because of their already simple structure entering.
Simple carbohydrates should be avoided due to their ability to decrease your natural fat burning processes in your body. When you consume simple carbohydrates they cause a hormone called insulin to spike in your body. The main job of insulin is to take glucose, or sugar, from your blood and store it into your tissues. The other big effect it has on your body is to decrease your use of fat as a fuel. This insulin spike creates a euphoric feeling in the body and later crashes. Think about the least time you ate a candy bar. You felt good while eating it and quickly thereafter began to feeling sluggish and tired. Simple carbs bring you up only to have a rebound effect and cause your energy to crash. It is apparent that simple carbohydrates are not ideal in maintaining or losing weight. Some examples of simple carbohydrates include any junk food, table sugar, honey, fudge, and soft drinks.
Complex carbohydrates are the complete opposite of simple carbs. These complex structures take your body time to break down and digest. While this is going on you maintain the “full” sensation in your stomach so hunger is kept in check. This is a great way to diet and lose weight as well as prevent weight gain. Complex carbohydrates can be found in many foods such as oatmeal, pasta, bagels, brown rice, vegetables, brown breads, and sweet potatoes.
It is important to note that just because complex carbohydrates are being consumed does not mean that more can be eaten. Care must be taken on consumption based on your current activity level. Do you workout daily? More complex carbohydrates may be eaten and in fact, are needed. Do you spend most of the day on the couch? Large servings of these carbs will only cause weight gain. Calories in must be less than calories out.
When looking for complex carbs at your local grocery store it is important to look at the label to make sure you are not being “tricked”. Many products will appear to be brown in color but is simply dyed that color and the same “white” or simple carbs are used. Why do companies do this? It is very sad but it is a way to deceive the public and make money. It is simply cheaper for them to use these processed carbs which have been stripped of all their nutrients. So next time you buy any pasta or bread products look on the nutrient label to make sure the word “whole wheat” is listed. If not than it is most likely a simple carbohydrate product that will leave you wondering why you are gaining, and not losing weight.
So on a final note remember that carbohydrates are not the bad guy misinformed companies make them out to be. On the contrary they are essential to health and can actually help you lose weight by suppressing hunger. Next time you are about to eat a carbohydrate rich food, determine whether it is simple or complex in type and you’ll be on our way to a healthier you in no time.