Carbohydrates, are they good or bad for me?

Today I will be sharing all about carbohydrates (another word that people seem to fear): what they are made up of and their function in the body.

It’s important to know why we eat the foods we do and why it is so important to have balance. I know many people have a fear around eating carbohydrates when they are dieting. So, my goal is to educate you in why including carbohydrates in your diet, no matter what your goal is, that it is completely fine and they really aren’t as ‘bad’ as they are made out to be!

As some of you may already know, carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the diet but of course we do of course get energy from fats and protein too, but carbohydrates are the most readily available source of energy in our bodies and the simplest macronutrient to break down for the release of energy. 

Each gram of carbohydrate has 4kcal. Most of the carbohydrates we eat are digested and then broken down into glucose units. Glucose then enters many different respiratory pathways in the body and is used to make the main energy molecule ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is needed to fuel the body. They provide the energy for you brain, muscle and body systems.

However, some carbohydrates we ingest aren’t needed for a source of energy straight away as the body may already have enough. These carbohydrates are converted to glycogen and stored in the liver for when the body needs them later. Therefore, it is encouraged for anyone who is taking part in an endurance workout / run or hike or even have an intense workout are encouraged to have a big carby meal the night before.

Carbohydrates can take 3 different forms: Monosaccharides, Disaccharides and Polysaccharides. Each of these depend on the number of sugar(glucose) units present.

Monosaccharides (Fruit, Vegetables, Nuts) are made up of one single glucose molecule and are the simplest form of carbohydrates. This is where we get the term ‘simple’ sugars, these are the sweetest tasting form of carbohydrates and would be found in jelly sweets, chocolate, sugary cereals and other artificial sweet tasting foods - basically all the things we love to eat and will crave but know they aren't the best things for us.

Disaccharides (Milk, Yoghurt) are made up of 2 sugar units bonded together. These aren’t as ‘simple’ as monosaccharides and wouldn’t taste quite as sweet. These must be broken down into monosaccharides in order to be used by the body. 

Polysaccharides (rice, potatoes, corn, wheat) are made up of many sugar units and would be referred to as complex carbohydrates, mainly found in wholegrains and wouldn’t taste as sweet as the other two forms of carbohydrates. Polysaccharides must also be broken down to monosaccharides (ie glucose) in order to be used for energy in the body. 

As you can see from the explanations above, from an overall calorie perspective, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you are getting your carbohydrates from wholegrain rice or sugary lollies - because they are all broken down to the exact same form in order to release energy, but as mentioned it is important to have a HEALTHY BALANCE and to be enjoyed in abundance, what you choose to put into your body will make a big difference in the long run!

That being said, many people to prefer to choose whole wheat fibrous carbohydrate sources when they are dieting because these foods can keep you fuller for longer because of the fibre content. You can also have much bigger portions of these complex carbohydrates compared to a smaller portion of sugary carbs for the same amount of calories.

Many of the foods that are high in complex carbohydrates are often high in micronutrients and minerals too as they are often less processed, organic food sources like potatoes and other vegetables. These are just some of the reasons that people prefer to choose complex carbohydrates when dieting, but it doesn’t mean you have to be restricted to them. If you like having a sugary treat after you train that is still within your total daily carbohydrate in take then have it!

In my opinion, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ carbohydrate food sources, simply because they are all broken down to the same thing anyway. The problem that people may run into though, is foods that are high in sugar and high in trans fats too- those are foods that I wouldn’t recommend having as a staple food in your diet because of the problems that come with having a diet high in trans fats. Of course, simple and complex carbohydrates both have a different effect on the initial blood sugar level and insulin release.

All in all, the take home message is that carbohydrates are a important macronutrient and shouldn’t be cut out of any diet.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE - Plan your meals. Keep a diary of what you are eating. Make small changes to adding in more healthy choices of carbohydrates that work for you. 

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