What are Carbohydrates anyway?

Alright, here’s round two!

Firstly, a big ‘Hello! And thanks!’ to my new followers – honestly, your interest is an inspiration to get me writing! I hope you’ll bear with me while I get the hang of WordPress and adjust my themes – I’m a WP newbie.

And now onto the matters at hand.

Before we can really understand a Low Carb (LC) lifestyle, we’ve got to look at what the heck a ‘carb’ actually is and why we might possibly want to cut it out of our diet. This has been explained to death all over the Internet and if you’ve stumbled onto this site after a long day of research you’ll already know this bit, but for those who’ve just tuned in, here we go:

We’ll skip the science-y bit where I talk about the molecular structure of a carbohydrate; no one’s really here to listen to that – and if you are, I’m sure Wikipedia will deliver such information quite readily. For our purposes we need to talk about the carbohydrate in terms of nutrition. In most diets, carbs are the primary source of fuel for the body – I remember hearing somewhere that ‘carbohydrates are the building blocks of life’; I don’t know how accurate that is but there you have it. Most people consume carbs as part of every meal. Essentially, they are sugars, starches, and cellulose (which, as I understand it, are all kind of similar anyways). When we eat these carbs our body burns them for energy and keeps all our body functions going.

‘It’s been doing this since the beginning of humanity, why would we want to mess with that?’ you ask.

‘Great question,’ I say.

The problem with the human race is that we’re all about convenience. Back in the stone age, we didn’t have access to sugar, we didn’t process our flour so that it was white and shiny, and we certainly didn’t grow hybrid potatoes to make them sweeter, or creamier or whatever. (Aside: I’m not against any of these things, just putting them into context!) So, while our food production and sources have developed at a massive rate, our body’s evolution hasn’t kept up. The long story short is that we can’t always cope with the amount of sugar/starches/carbs in general that our modern day diets supply us with. Take for example a loaf of supermarket bread – just a generic white loaf, sliced for the toasted, nothing special, nothing too boring – you’re looking at around 50g of carbs in a 100g, with only around 3g of fibre. Put into basic terms this means that just under half of what you’re eating is sugar/starch/cellulose that you’re body’s going to burn up for energy. What it doesn’t burn is what gets stored as fat.  Which is fine, by the way, unless you’re sensitive to carbs and have a tendency to crave the sugar!

So, foods that contain carbs:

  • Bread, Pasta, Rice
  • Fruits & Veggies – and juices!
  • Candies – and chocolates!
  • Milk – Dairy, Soy, Rice, Almond, Oat, etc…
  • Soft drinks – including energy drinks!
  • …basically every section in that Food Pyramid from Year 9/Grade 8 science class has some sort of carb in it.

Now, here’s the thing. Before my GP suggested I try a LC diet, I had no idea what carbs were doing to me; I didn’t even realise they were a possible thing – I just assumed that fat was the culprit and that cutting that out and regulating ‘sugar in general’ might help, until I started doing all this research. I’m one of those people, because of my genetic makeup – and my PCOS, I suppose – that is sensitive to sugars – and has a sweettooth to boot, yay, go me! My body tends to need very few carbs to keep going. This is most likely due to the fact that I don’t get enough exercise and my body has decided that I don’t need extreme amounts of fuel to maintain that type of metabolism. Again, this would be fine, if I hadn’t been eating a diet that was high in the wrong type of carbohydrates.

“Wrong??? There’s a right?” you demand, possibly slightly fed up with my rambling.

Well, strictly speaking: yes. We’ve got ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ carbs. In case I haven’t really been clear about it: carbs aren’t technically bad for you, it’s the overeating of the wrong types that will kill you – or at least cripple you with obesity, diabetes, some sort of cancer, and a host of other issues. So, what’s the difference between the carbs?

Simple carbs = straight up sugar. Stuff that the body doesn’t have to break down to get energy out of; these are products with white flour, honey, milk, yoghurt, candy, chocolate, fruit, fruit juice, cakes (and cookies, crackers and biscuits!), jam and preserves, molasses (corn syrup, maple syrup, agave extract, etc), soft drinks and a lot of store-bought cereals.

Complex carbs = carbs your body has to work for. Basically, if your body has to work to get energy out of these things you’re burning energy to get them, so you’re not just flooding your system with instant fuel, you’re using up calories to get to them and releasing them a bit at a time rather than all at once. This steadier release of energy means that you’re not likely to feel hungry straight after you’ve eaten, and you’re maintaining a steadier blood-sugar level. This means you’re burning energy at a slower rate – but steadier! (i know, I’m overusing the word) – and you’re not likely to store the sugar.

That brings us to INSULIN, which I will save for the next post because it’s incredibly important and I’ve rambled enough for one post – the last thing I need is for you all to go ‘she talks way too much!’. Overloading the brain with information is nearly as bad as overloading your bloodstream with sugar. Trust me.

Clear Skies, Vee

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