Technically, carbohydrates can be defined as a group of organic compounds found in food and living tissue of animals and plants. These compounds, also known as carbohydrates, are the main source of energy for the body and can be divided into two main categories – simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates have a basic molecular structure, usually one or two parts. They are easily absorbed by the body when taken orally and release sudden bursts of energy followed by the same sudden drop in levels when sugars are consumed.
A good source of simple sugars are refined and processed carbohydrates, which are designed to be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. They provide energy more quickly than natural sugars, which have a lower glycemic index.
However, many of these refined sugars are only used as flavor enhancers in processed foods and have little or no nutritional value. That's why they are called empty calories.
Simple carbohydrates are also found in natural sources such as fruit, honey and dairy.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, have a more complex molecular structure of three or more parts. They take longer to break down into glucose for energy. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates also contain fiber, minerals and other nutrients.
Because complex carbohydrates are slowly broken down, energy lasts longer than simple carbohydrates provide. Sources include whole grains and their products, such as cereal, oatmeal, rice, and pasta. They are also found in potatoes, lentils, beans and peas.
When ingested, carbohydrates are digested and broken down into glucose, which is a simpler, more absorbable form. It is then transported through the blood to the body's organs and muscles, which break it down for energy. Such organs include the heart, kidney, brain and lungs.
Why You Should or Shouldn't Eliminate Carbs
Diet has become a widely discussed topic around the world, and any such discussion usually focuses on one thing - carbohydrates. For years, nutritionists have been torn between advising their patients to avoid carbohydrates altogether or to eat only the good ones. The result is a variety of diets available to everyone, including the famous Keto and Atkins diets.
To really understand whether or not to cut carbs, let's look at the benefits and dangers of eating carbs.
The most important function of carbohydrates in the body is to provide energy. They are the main source of the body.
Most natural food sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grains and vegetables, also contain a significant amount of fiber, which not only promotes good gut health, but also reduces the chance of other health problems, such as cholesterol buildup.
Also, when fats and fatty foods are replaced with carbohydrates, such as whole grains, they can help reduce your fat intake, allowing you to maintain a healthy weight. It helps in the fight against obesity and other health problems associated with being overweight.
The main disadvantage of eating carbohydrates is weight gain. As mentioned earlier, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is broken down further to produce energy. The excess glucose then accumulates in the organs and muscles as fat, which causes weight gain. It is the basis for many low-carb diets.
Carbohydrates are also dangerous for people with blood sugar problems such as diabetes. When digested, they raise the amount of blood sugar, and people with these conditions may not be able to control their levels well.
There is even a risk of sugar addiction. The effects can be somewhat similar to those of regular street drugs.
For those who are concerned about their weight and blood sugar levels, the best alternative for maintaining health may be to stop eating carbohydrates and replace them with more substantial sources of energy, such as protein.
Foods to Avoid on a Low Carb Diet
bread and cereal
Bread is widely consumed all over the world. It is difficult to find a household that does not use bakery production. Refined or made from whole grains, bread is mostly carbs. A slice of regular white bread can contain up to 14g of carbohydrates, while a slice of whole grain bread can contain up to 17g. This definitely makes it a poor choice for a low-carb meal.
This might seem quite ironic, as some of the healthiest people in the world swear by them. Fruits are good sources of vitamins and fiber, and their health benefits are far-reaching. Some studies even show that they can reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Some fruits, however, are rich in carbohydrates. These include bananas, apples, grapes and mangoes. The sweeter the fruit, the more sugar it contains.
Vegetables with a lot of starch
Vegetables are also an important component of many diets as they prefer high amounts of vitamins and high levels of fiber which not only aid digestion but also aid in weight loss and help control blood sugar levels.
Some vegetables, however, are high in starch, making them more digestible carbohydrates than fiber. They include corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes and beets.
Pasta, like bread, is a staple food for many people on the planet. It's not only cheap, it's also easy to prepare and can be served with a variety of other dishes. However, many people who are concerned about their weight have decided to reduce mass or avoid it altogether due to the large amount of carbohydrates it contains. Whether whole grain or processed, it's a poor choice for anyone looking to cut down on carbs. A healthy alternative would be shirataki noodles or spiral vegetables.
The ideal breakfast for at least half of the country's adults and children would be a bowl full of sugary cereal. While the excuse is that grains (especially whole grains) provide the body with the fiber it needs, it's important to note that they contain far more sugars than fiber. For example, half a cup of oatmeal contains 25 grams of carbs and only 4 grams of fiber.
Foods for a low carb diet
The main goal of many low-carb diets is to lose weight and improve overall health. The goal is to replace carbohydrates with other sources of energy, usually protein and healthy fats. The basic principle is that if the body receives a minimal amount of carbohydrates, it will not store them as fat. Here are some foods you should include in your low-carb diet for best results:
- Lean Meat Protein – Refers to lean meats such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach
- High-fat dairy products such as cheese and butter
- Nuts and seeds, including sunflower seeds and walnuts
- Low-carb fruits and berries
Popular low-carb diets
The Atkin Diet focuses on weight loss and aims to consume carbohydrate-rich protein and fats. The idea was spread by Dr. Robert Atkins, who wrote a book about it in 1972.
Initially, the Atkins diet was considered unhealthy and not even encouraged by many other nutritionists due to the large amount of saturated fat their followers consumed. However, over time it has gained popularity all over the world, and several studies confirm this. It is very beneficial for people who want to lose weight or lower their cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
The Atkins diet consists of four phases:
- Induction phase: involves eating less than 20 grams of carbs a day for at least two weeks. It serves to start the weight loss process and also includes the intake of large amounts of proteins and fats.
- Ongoing Weight Loss: This focuses on balancing the weight loss and bringing it back to a steady pace. This includes slowly incorporating small amounts of carbohydrates into the diet.
- Pre-Maintenance: This is when a person is close to their weight goals and should slow down the weight loss process. This includes slowly adding carbs back into the diet until weight loss starts to slow.
- Maintenance. This phase involves a lot of balance, where the person eats as many carbohydrates as possible without gaining weight.
Focused primarily on weight loss, the LCHF diet is based on the concept of eating low amounts of carbohydrates and high amounts of fat. It is also practiced for a number of other health reasons, such as reducing the risk and consequences of type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and Alzheimer's disease.
The LCHF Diet, also known as the Banting Plan (named after William Banting, who played a critical role in its popularization), involves eating whole, unprocessed fats and moderate amounts of protein with minimal carbohydrate intake. Other diets like the ketogenic and Atkins diets also rely on this rule, making them minor variations on the LCHF diet.
There are no standard meal plans for this diet as it must be tailored to individual needs. It is recommended to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and pasta, as well as other sugary and starchy foods.
The risks of a low carb diet
While low-carb diets are ideal for weight loss (and other health benefits), there are also some significant risks that shouldn't be overlooked by anyone starting out with them.
Eating little or no carbs increases the chances of dying young, especially in adulthood. This has been proven by several meta-analyzed studies from around the world.
These diets can also significantly increase death rates, as seen in several studies in which affected people got at least 50% of their energy from carbohydrate-rich foods.
Carbohydrates can be the body's main source of energy, but they can also be blamed for problems like weight gain and other health problems that result from consuming too much of them.
Because of this, experts have created low-carb diets that seek to replace them with fats and proteins as sources of energy. Diets like Atkins and LCHF work on the same principle: eat less carbohydrate foods and more protein and fat foods. Different meal plans and different phases are usually the only differences between these diets. For example, a low-carb, ketogenic diet. They have been linked to some risks, such as the risk of premature death.
Therefore, it would be wise to fully understand individual needs and consult a physician before starting a low-carb diet.