Low carb and keto diets are more popular in recent times. There is much debate about whether carbohydrates are good for you or whether it is healthier to restrict them.
There is plenty of research involving the effects of different types of carbohydrates on the body and this dates back over many years. The trend for lower-carb diets, however, is relatively new in terms of research. This means that there is still much to learn about the longer-term effects of carbohydrate restriction.
The decision to include carbohydrates in the diet or to follow a low-carb or keto diet is a personal choice. There are many different studies available that present different results and it is interesting to follow the emerging information about low-carb diets and the impact this has on body composition and overall health and wellbeing.
Carbohydrates are a complex food group and by investigating them further we can gain insight into the benefits as well as the drawbacks of including carbs in your daily diet.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates come in many forms. Many people instantly think of bread, rice, or pasta but carbohydrates also represent sugars and fibres.
Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen in the body. Glycogen is the body’s preferred energy source. Eating carbohydrates releases insulin which signals the body to store glycogen in your muscles. When you haven’t eaten for some time and your blood sugar becomes low, another hormone, glucagon is released to signal your muscles to release some of this stored glycogen.
Carbohydrates can be split into two types: Simple and complex.
Sugars and refined starches are simple carbohydrates, which means that they are converted to glycogen quickly. This rapid conversion means that you tend to release insulin quickly and in larger amounts. Refined carbohydrates have been processed and partially broken down so it is easier for your body to digest them.
Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest so the conversion to glycogen is slower. This means insulin is released at a more steady rate. Complex carbohydrates are usually wholegrain and high fibre foods that take time and energy to break down as they are digested.
When insulin spikes regularly, the body can become insulin-resistant, meaning that it needs to release more to do the same job. Over time, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.
The recommendations for carbohydrate intake are high in comparison to recommended fat and protein intake and the reason for this becomes clearer as we further explore carbs.
Are carbohydrates good or bad?
Food is neither good nor bad, it is better to describe food as healthy or less healthy. Food is healthier when it contains more nutrition. In this respect, some carbohydrates are healthier than other
When we consider healthier carbohydrates, we can look at the vitamins and minerals they contain, as well as the effect they have on the body.
Complex carbohydrates tend to contain more vitamins and minerals than refined carbohydrates and simple sugars. They take longer to digest because they contain more fibre and this leaves you feeling fuller for longer.
One of the best examples of complex carbohydrates to include in your diet is vegetables. Vegetables are high in soluble and insoluble fibre, lower in calories and contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
Fruits are also high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals but also contain fructose which is a simple sugar. This is why fruit should be eaten in moderation.
Do carbs make you fat?
Over-eating any food will increase your stored body fat. Fat accumulates when we consume more calories than we burn each day. The best way to burn body fat is by creating a calorie deficit and building lean muscle through exercise.
Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and rice tend to be calorie-dense in comparison to vegetables and fruit.
The best way to avoid storing excess body fat is to ensure that you eat a nutrient-rich, calorie-controlled diet and exercising regularly.
How many carbs should I eat?
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine recommends a carbohydrate intake of between 45-65% of total energy intake, per day. This large proportion of energy intake may seem high but when you consider that we are aiming to include a wide variety of nutrients and fibre, it is sensible to include plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, as well as wholegrain foods.