Aaaaagh!!!!! Before you start screaming and running from the room, hear me out.
Carbohydrates are GOOD. YES – GOOD. Your body runs on them. They are the easiest of the macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) to metabolise for energy. And we ALL need energy. Those people who think they can trick their bodies into running on ketones by drastically reducing carbohydrates are in for a shock down the road. Ketone bodies are NOT your body’s preferred fuel source and, unless you are an epileptic child, can be downright dangerous to your mental wellbeing and your overall health. But that is another story.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (CHOs) are just chains of sugars. They consist of Carbon (carbo), Oxygen and Hydrogen (water=hydrate). The 3 simple sugars are Glucose (sugar), Fructose (fruit sugar) and Galactose (milk sugar). All carbohydrates are made of a combination of these 3 sugars.
Simple CHOs are very easily used by the human body to make energy. Particularly glucose – which is the body’s preferred fuel source. The glucose enters into a process called the Krebs cycle and is converted, through a series of reactions, into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s currency. Without ATP we stop working and die. But fear not – when properly fed, our body makes about 68 million ATP per SECOND just to keep us operating.
We don’t just eat sugar (At least I hope you don’t)
We eat FOOD. Foods high in carbohydrates include sugars (as discussed above), fruit, starchy vegetables, cereals and grains, beans, pulses and legumes. Other foods such as non starchy vegetables have a smaller amount of carbohydrates, whilst nuts and seeds are almost devoid of CHOs.
In case you are wondering, we also need protein for repair and manufacture of cells and tissues; and fat for brain and neurological functions, amongst others. Protein is found in varying amounts in almost every plant and fat is found abundantly in nuts, avocado and seeds.
OK. Back to carbohydrates. When we eat food, the CHOs start to be broken down in the mouth by enzymes into simple sugars (if you chew long enough, that is). Then in the stomach they are further digested. Through the small intestine, these smaller molecules enter the bloodstream where they have many destinations. Some are sent to the mitochondria of the muscle tissues and used to make ATP for energy. Some are sent to the liver and stored as glycogen for energy use later on and the excess is sent to the adipose tissue and turned into fat.
The BEST NEWS EVER is that the body does NOT like turning extra CHO into fat. It’s a long process, and is not efficient. It much prefers to store excess dietary FAT as fat (Duh!). But, it WILL turn extra calories from CHO (and protein and fat) into fat if you eat too many calories and you don’t burn them from exercise. But, if you are eating exactly the correct amount of food each day – no more no less, it doesn’t matter what percentage of your diet is CHO – you WILL NOT put on fat. Yay!!!!!!
Benefits of Carbohydrate Foods
Whole plant foods are not just chains of sugar molecules. They are complex organisms that have many other health benefits.
Water – lots of plant foods are chock full of water. Think cucumbers, lettuce, fruits, even potatoes. This water helps with hydration and motility (moving the food through the gut). Water clears waste from the blood via the kidneys and into our urine. Water is essential in every bodily function.
Fibre – plants are full of fibre. Fibre is also really good for the gut. It sweeps out our intestines, cleaning up debris and flushing out toxins in our poop. Some fibre is digested, some is not – but it is all FABULOUS.
Vitamins and Minerals – plant foods have a variety of vitamins and minerals essential to life. If you are devoid of certain V&Ms, your body will not operate properly. One of the great things about eating a whole foods plant based diet is that you really don’t need to count amounts of vitamins and minerals as long as you eat a wide variety of different colored produce.
But I lose weight on a low carb diet!
I hear you – and so do I. But let me tell you a secret. When you go on a low carb diet, what normally happens is you cut out certain things: icecream, cakes, bikkies, lollies, soda……and instead, you probably eat more leafy green salads. What is happening here is that you are most likely reducing your ENERGY intake regardless of the amount of CHO you eat. At the same time, you might be grumpy and yell at your kids or p*** your partner off. Do yourself a favour and eat the potato. Have a bowl of lentil pasta (mmm). You will feel fuller, more satisfied and you will be getting adequate nutrition. Low CHO diets STARVE your body of proper nutrition and will backfire on you as soon as you go off them.
By all means ditch the processed sugary carbohydrate rich foods (by the way – they are probably also high in FAT so high in energy) but keep eating natural, unprocessed carbohydrates from plants.
The take home message
What does this all mean? It means, if you want to run for the bus, have oatmeal and berries for breakfast. If you want to chase your kids around the park, have some veggies and brown rice for lunch. If you want your body to run optimally and be healthy for the long term, eat carbohydrate rich foods every single day. I’m sure you get the idea.
Share some of your recipes using favorite carbohydrate rich foods in the comments below.