Posted in: Good Nutrition, Manage Diabetes

Carbohydrates: should we stop eating them completely?

Over the years there have been many discussions around carbohydrates and their importance in our diets. Some people are leaning towards getting more of their calories from carbohydrates while others are going to cut off carbohydrates completely from their diets, in other words making carbohydrates a non-essential part of our daily diets.
These are the discussions that have brought about the keto diet being highly recommended for the management of many diseases, and many others going for a low carbohydrate diet.

Understanding carbohydrates!

While we want to consider whether carbohydrates are essential or not in our diets, we’ll start by knowing three things;

  1. What are carbohydrates; these are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, and they are one of the main macronutrients our bodies need.
  2. What is the role of carbohydrates in our diet; Carbohydrates serve as the primary source of energy for the body, providing fuel for daily activities and bodily functions. They also play a role in supporting brain function and facilitating the metabolism of fats. Additionally, some carbohydrates, like fibre, aid in digestion and promote overall gut health.
  3. What are the sources of carbohydrates; Carbohydrates are found in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains (like wheat, rice, and oats), legumes (beans and lentils), dairy products, and sugary treats. They come in different forms like sugars, starches, and fibre.

Basically what this means is that, most of the food items that we are eating already contain a certain amount of carbohydrates.

Why are they essential?

  • They are the first energy source for your body: They provide the body with its primary source of energy, particularly for brain function and muscle activity.
  • Fuel for Physical Activity: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel during high-intensity exercise and endurance activities.
  • Storage of Energy: Excess carbs are converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles for future energy needs.
  • Metabolism Regulation: They play a role in regulating metabolism, insulin sensitivity, and blood sugar levels.
  • Dietary Fiber: Some carbohydrates, such as dietary fibre, are crucial for maintaining digestive health, regulating bowel movements, and reducing the risk of certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
  • Supporting Healthy Gut Bacteria: Certain types of carbohydrates, particularly soluble fibre, serve as prebiotics, nourishing beneficial gut bacteria and promoting gut health.
  • Source of Essential Nutrients: Carbohydrates can also be a source of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, especially in whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That means they don’t just give you energy, they carry other important nutrients.

When do you consider reducing the amount of them in your diet? Or rather avoiding them completely?

Reducing or avoiding carbohydrates can be considered if you’re aiming for weight loss. Managing blood sugar levels (especially for diabetes), or if you’re following certain diets like ketogenic or low-carb. In both weight loss and management of diabetes, we are not completely removing them from our diets. Rather we are reducing the amount that we are taking.

How much carbohydrates would you need to achieve weight loss?

To achieve weight loss, you will have to get into a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body expends, leading to weight loss over time. It’s a common approach for weight management and can be achieved through a combination of diet and exercise.

What happens when you eat too much when trying to lose weight?

Consuming too many carbohydrates, especially refined ones, can lead to weight gain or hinder weight loss efforts. Excess can spike blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and increased fat storage.

What happens when you don’t eat any carbohydrates at all?

Avoiding them entirely can have some negative effects on your health:

  1. Nutrient Deficiencies: Carbohydrates are a source of essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Cutting them out completely may lead to deficiencies if not compensated with other nutrient-rich foods.
  2. Muscle Loss: They help preserve muscle mass by providing energy for workouts and promoting protein synthesis. Without them, there’s a risk of muscle breakdown, especially if protein intake is inadequate.
  3. Brain Function: The brain relies on glucose, which comes from carbs, as its primary fuel source. In the absence of carbs, cognitive function may suffer, leading to difficulty concentrating and mental fog.
  4. Energy Levels: Carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy. Without them, you may experience fatigue, weakness, and decreased physical performance, especially during high-intensity activities.
  5. Digestive Issues: Particularly from sources like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provide fibre that supports digestive health. A lack of fibre can lead to constipation and other digestive problems.
  6. Keto Flu: Transitioning to a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritability, known as the “keto flu,”.

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