Hold the Mayo, Hold the Ketchup…Hold the Bun?
Move over bun-lovers, lettuce cups are here. Yes, the carbohydrate phobia has taken hold, and dieters are turning away from grains in droves. Are you wondering if the carb-free zone is for you? First, let’s talk about what role carbohydrates play in nutrition and weight loss.
What is a carbohydrate?
A carbohydrate is the body’s main source of energy. In addition to the two primary types of carbohydrates, sugars (or simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbs), fiber is another type of carbohydrate that is not digested or absorbed by the body. Almost all foods that contain carbohydrates contain a mixture of sugars and starches (except just plain brown sugar, maple or white sugar).
What do carbohydrates do?
During digestion, complex carbs are broken down into sugars. These sugar molecules move into the bloodstream and then into the body’s cells where they are converted into energy. Simple sugars do not need to be broken down, so they get absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly than the complex carbohydrates. An exception is fructose, a sugar that’s found in fruits and vegetables. Fructose gets broken down very slowly. The more processed something is, the more quickly it will be broken down and raise blood sugar, and triggers the release of insulin. High levels of insulin can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar, leading to weakness, headaches and fatigue. High levels of insulin can contribute to fat storage, and may increase your risk of heart disease by raising blood pressure, elevating triglycerides and lowering HDL cholesterol (a group of conditions that, when combined, are called metabolic syndrome, syndrome X, or insulin-resistance).
Why do people lose weight on low-carb diets?
First, when you cut carbs out of your diet, you tend to cut a lot of calories. Whether the carbs are from bread, ice cream or fresh fruit, if you cut them all out, you’re bound to have a significant decrease in your calories.
Secondly, carbohydrates hold in water. When we eat carbohydrate, a lot goes to our glycogen stores in the liver and the muscles where carbs are used for energy. In order to hold in one little molecule of glycogen, you have to hold in three molecules of water. So basically our cells are stuffed full of water, holding in this one little molecule of sugar stored as glycogen. As soon as you go on a low-carb diet, your body takes these stored sugar molecules and uses it for energy, so you urinate out pounds of water. This can lead to poor energy levels, which is problematic for active people (a critical part of successful weight management is being active). Moderate amounts of whole grains help keep blood sugars and energy supply constant. Fruits and vegetables supply essential vitamins and minerals that are come in nutrient-packed packages. Carbs are a healthy component of successful weight loss, when coupled with lean proteins and an appropriate amount of healthy fat.