Let's Talk About Carbs....

Posted at 8:30am on April 07, 2017

This tiny little four letter word 'carb' has been thrown around like a curse. 'Avoid at all costs' might as well be a synonym, but what is a carb really?

There are two general categories to help separate the 'bad' from the 'good'. Starches and sugars, which occur as small chains, are known as simple carbohydrates. These are absorbed rapidly into the blood steam, quickly spiking blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates, like fiber, occur in long chains. These take longer for the body to break down and absorb, and therefore have a more steady affect on blood sugar. High blood sugar releases insulin which helps absorb sugars (glucose) into the cell. Cells can only absorb a limited amount of glucose at a time. This means excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscle tissue. Complex carbohydrates are considered healthier because they are slower to release into the blood stream. This means that cells can use more of the glucose efficiently, storing less as fat.

What is considered a low carb diet?

A low carb diet excludes or limits simple and complex carbohydrates- focusing more on protein and fat as the main source of calories. According to Mayo Clinic, a low carb diet consists of 240-520 daily calories from carbohydrates. This is about half the normal amount of 900-1300 calories from carbohydrates per day (for a 2000 cal/day diet). There is of course a spectrum of severity in any diet; however, all considered low carb exclude processed grains and starches such as white bread, white rice, potatoes, and sugar. Whole grains contain more complex carbohydrates, and are of higher nutritional value. Small potions of daily calories under this diet can be whole grains such as quinoa and green vegetables. Notice that it is primarily about ratio of daily calories from carbohydrate, fat, and protein as opposed to cutting calories. So breath easy knowing this diet doesn't make you eat less overall.

I thought low fat was how to loose weight?

Low fat was all the rage for many years. Any food product imaginable was being labeled low fat to make it look healthy. Unfortunately, studies have shown that low fat is not really all that much better for us. Just like carbohydrates, not all fats are created equal. Two types of fat, saturated and unsaturated, are present naturally in food. Saturated fats primarily come from animal sources such as dairy and meat. They are fat molecules saturated in hydrogen. Hydrogen is a considered a sticky molecule that gives saturated fat artery clogging effects. Not to mention, foods high in saturated fats are higher in LDL cholesterol. This is very important to keep in mind since low carb diets focus on calories from fats and protein. Make sure to select for unsaturated fats from vegetables and nuts. Unsaturated fats play an important role in over cell health. They lubricate vessels, protect cell walls, and help the body to metabolize fat-soluble vitamins (D, K, and E). Olive oil is the perfect example of a healthy unsaturated fat. Olive oil is high in antioxidant and beneficial fatty acid content. It raises good (HDL) cholesterol which helps the body break down/metabolize fat from liver and muscle tissue.

Studies have shown that people on low fat diets tend to substitute much of their 2000 calorie per day diet with carbohydrates. This has many negative effects on blood sugar, and is especially bad for those with diabetes or glycemic issues. Protein, fat, and fiber are all broken down slowly, steadily raising blood sugar. This process is easier on the metabolism, and makes for more efficient processing of of food with less storage as fat. This also means we feel fuller longer, since drops in blood sugar trigger feelings of hunger. Therefore, many people report eating less on diets low in carbohydrates. Due to this and the effect of steady blood sugar, low carb diets have been shown to be highly successful for short term weight loss.

In total keeping the ratio of protein (largest calorie source), to fat, to carbohydrate (smallest calorie source) balanced is key. Choosing healthy sources for these nutrients is also very important. Unprocessed or natural foods are always the healthier option. Overall, majority of daily calories should come from lean sources of protein low in saturated fat such as chicken or fish. Focus on using healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, fresh green vegetables, and eat only limited whole grains such as wild rice or oats. Turns out a low carb diet doesn't mean starvation; it means fresh, quality ingredients and proper proportions.