As a fitness enthusiast, I hear people say, “Don’t eat carbs if you want to lose weight. Carbs are not good for you.” As someone who loves her vegetables, fruit and natural sweets (i.e. raw desserts and sometimes decadent, rich Jean Paul Hevin dark chocolate cakes), I’ve been tempted to think twice before I reach for that piece of bread, raw dessert, or even fruit.
This is why I’m writing this article today. I’ll discuss:
- 3 common myths on carbohydrates
- 3 facts on carbohydrates
- Why carbs can help you lose the last 5 pounds and keep it off
- The downsides of not having enough carbs
- Why you need carbs after a workout
Before I discuss the myths and facts of carbohydrates, let’s talk about what carbohydrates are first.
Carbohydrate 101: What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are used by the body to make glucose which provides us with energy immediately. An enzyme called amylase breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, and our body stores glucose in our liver and muscles for future use.
There are complex and simple carbohydrates. Complex natural carbohydrates are found in “starchy” foods like legumes, while simple natural carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, simple carbs also include refined foods such as white flour, candy, and white sugar.
Since not all carbs are alike, I’d like to introduce the first myth…
Myth 1 – Carbohydrates are *not* good for you.
While some carbs are bad for us, some are actually healthy for us. There’s a myth that carbohydrates as a food group are not good for us and that we should limit our carbohydrate intake to lose weight, if not eliminate the whole food group completely.
However, just because one type of carbohydrate is bad for us, this does not mean that all carbohydrates are bad for us.
The Bad Guys
There are refined and unrefined carbohydrates. Refined carbs are those that are sugar laden and stripped of all nutrients. Examples include white bread, biscuits and candies.
Refined carbs are unhealthy because they provide calories, but lack nutrients such as vitamins, fiber and minerals. Furthermore, refined carbs are usually high in glycemic load. You’re basically eating and absorbing sugar straight into your bloodstream, spiking blood sugar levels up. Furthermore, refined carbs, which are rapidly converted to sugar in our bodies, can cause inflammation which accelerates aging. This is why you want to avoid refined carbs.
The Good Guys
Unrefined carbs are the good guys that provide us with lots of nutrients.
They are usually derived from natural food sources such as vegetables and fruit, and include both complex and simple carbohydrates. Unrefined carbs are actually good for you because they contain plenty of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber that are necessary for our body’s health. These nutrients help us fight inflammation and cancer, improve our digestive system, heart and bone health. In contrast, refined carbs don’t contain any of these nutrients or antioxidative properties.
Fact 1 – Some carbs are good and necessary for your health.
As I’ve suggested in the earlier paragraphs, unrefined carbs are good for you. However, avoid refined carbs by all means. Pick your carbs carefully.
And… A lack of carbs can lead to health dangers.
Low-carb diets can actually be dangerous for you. Without carbs, our body will not be able to break-down fat properly and thus produce a by-product called ketones, leading to a condition called ketosis. Ketosis can lead to excessive production of uric acid and hyperuricemia, increasing risk of kidney stones, gout, high blood pressure, heart disease, colon cancer, and kidney disease.
Myth 2 – Carbohydrates make you fat (Really?)
Carbohydrates receive a bad rep, given the popularity of the Atkins diet in the 1990s. The diet is based on the assumption that people are overweight given the over-consumption of carbohydrates. Dr. Atkins suggested that we can naturally lose weight by reducing carbs and incorporating more protein and fat in our diet to burn stored fat more efficiently.
Fact 2 – Carbohydrates can actually help us maintain our weight in the long run
According to Dr. Colin Campbell, “carbohydrate-rich foods are perfect for permanent weight control.” Think about it logically. Carbohydrates contain less than half the calories of fat. If you just replace your diet of fatty foods with unrefined carbohydrates, you are likely to reduce your caloric intake and lose weight.
Most importantly, as Dr. Colin Campbell suggests, the body treats carbohydrates differently than fat calories, and burns carbohydrates more effectively. The body burns 23% of the calories of carbohydrates for energy especially since it is inefficient for our body to store carbs as body fat. However, fat can be easily converted into body fat especially since only 3% of fat calories are burned in the process of conversion and storage.
Myth 3 – Avoid carbs after training
“Don’t eat any carbs after you train if you want to lose weight.”
Let’s dig deeper into why some bodybuilders hold the above perspective. Some argue that carb intake may drive up insulin once glycogen stores are full, which stimulates lipogensis and promotes fat storage.
While there’s some truth to the above, post-workout carb intake can actually help regenerate muscles, which in turn burn more calories. The insulin released after a post-workout meal can help the body to switch from a catabolic (muscle-losing) state to an anabolic (muscle-growing) state. Insulin promotes protein synthesis and muscle regeneration. This is especially important if you had an intense workout because excessive training can cause catabolism and fatigue. Carbs can not only replenish your glycogen stores, but can also help you rebuild muscles and gain energy. By having more muscles in your body, you’re likely to burn more calories (and enhance performance for your next workout.)
Fact 3 – Unrefined carbs are necessary post-workout
Muscles need both unrefined carbs and protein after a workout to replenish their glycogen stores, prevent further muscle breakdown and rebuild micro-tear (this helps alleviate workout soreness!) from exercising.
Of course, if you over-consume carbs, especially refined carbs, post-workout, then you may negate the effects of a workout and increase inflammation. This is why you need to choose your post-workout food sources carefully.
Some post-workout food sources I recommend include:
- Sweet Potato
- Brown Rice
- Chia Seeds
- Dark Green Vegetables
Carbs: Friend or Foe?
Bottom line: Carbs can be good and bad for you. You just need to choose your carbs carefully. If you want to lose weight, cut out refined carbs and incorporate more vegetables, fruit and whole foods in your diet. You’ll have a slimmer waist line, more youthful skin, better health, and leave a greener footprint. And no, don’t go low-carb. You don’t want to end up constipated.
Image Source: Lemon-Butter Fettuccine with Parsley and Pine Nuts