How many times have you heard it said, “Stay away from carbs!” or “Don’t eat carbs post 7 or 8 pm – it will make you fat?” Thinking about “carbs” probably brings to mind images of just about everything you’ve been mentally programmed to avoid. If you’re one of those who’ve started off on their fitness journey, and are now avoiding all carbs like the plague, then this article is for YOU! So let’s take a deeper plunge into the carb-confusion and see if we should continue hating them, or possibly start loving them.
What do carbs actually do for us?
- The primary source of energy – Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy. They provide the body with glucose, which is converted into energy for various physical activities.
- They help you sleep better – If you’re sleep deprived, or have an irregular sleeping pattern, then having high GI carbs at night will help you sleep better. A study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition (1) showed that having high GI carbs 4 hours before sleep will not only aid better sleep but also shorten the sleep onset time.
- They provide stress relief – Carbohydrates help reduce stress because they enable the brain to synthesize new serotonin – the neurotransmitter that is responsible for controlling anxiety and depression, and improving the mood. The release of serotonin, therefore, calms you down. Most “fat loss diets” insist on completely removing carbs from the diet and replacing them with either fats or protein, neither of which has any positive effect on lessening emotional stress. And that is the reason why a well-planned cheat meal or a refeed day plays a vital role in any fat loss program where carbs are restricted.
- Improve athletic performance – Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel that makes the body’s engine run, and athletes need plenty of it throughout the day. While some will argue that fats can be used as a source of energy, the truth is that the body generates energy from carbohydrates much faster than it does from fat. Multiple studies have shown that increase in fatigue and the decrease in performance is associated with low carbohydrate diets that cause glycogen depletion. Studies also show that low glycogen levels may even cause overtraining. In order to optimize performance and recovery completely, athletes need to constantly load muscle glycogen stores which they get via Carbs. (2)
- Source of fiber – Fiber is also a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. Fiber cannot be broken down, and it passes through the body undigested. Fiber is primarily of two types, and both of them are beneficial – Soluble fibers and Insoluble fibers. And fiber is important in our diet because of several reasons:
- Soluble fibers reduce total and LDL cholesterol. (3)
- Fibers help to control sugar levels, as foods which are high in fiber tend to have a lower glycemic index. (4)
- As the food that is high in fiber keeps you fuller for a longer duration, they also help to reduce hunger pangs.
- One of the main benefits of fiber is its positive impact on removing constipation. Fiber absorbs water, which increases the bulk of the stool and speeds up the movement of stool through the intestine. (5)
- Dietary fiber in food has been proven to provide protection against colorectal cancer. (6)
However, as the common saying goes, there are always 2 sides to a coin. Consuming carbohydrates may be beneficial in so many ways, but there are also some not-so-beneficial effects of carb consumption. Let us now look at some of the cons of carbohydrates:
- Eating too many carbohydrates can lead to an increase in total calories, which can eventually lead to obesity.
- Eating too many carbs will impact your blood sugar levels. Over time, eating too many carbs will affect your ability to control your blood sugar levels, and you may run the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
- A diet containing unmonitored carbohydrates can raise the triglyceride levels, and also lower the levels of high-density cholesterol (HDL), which is the good cholesterol. High triglyceride levels along with relatively low levels of high-density cholesterol can significantly raise your risk of heart disease.
Now, if you take a close look at the cons, it is easy to notice the common factor – all these negative effects happen when carbohydrates have been consumed unmonitored, that is, without any regard to ‘how much.’ Excess of anything can be detrimental for health. The same can be said for carbohydrates. However, in moderation its benefits are limitless.
In conclusion, it can be said that the generic statement “Avoid Carbs,” is undoubtedly wrong. Some people will do well on more carbs, while some will have to eat bare minimum to sustain their weight. Your best bet is to play around with different carb levels, and see what suits you better.
Final Thoughts – Carbohydrates are addictive. People get addicted to them so much, they tend to overeat them, and that is the reason they gain weight – not because the carbs are bad but because they’re having too much of them! Always remember that if you consume more calories than what is required by your body, whether the calories come from carbohydrates or not, you can end up gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. So eat and enjoy everything, but never forget the virtue of moderation!
Author Credits – Dr. Aniket Jadhav