Besides providing energy, foods containing carbohydrate are typically packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. Carbs fuel our muscles and brain, and supply the energy for essential body functions like breathing and heartbeat. Carbohydrates are the only fuel source for many vital organs, including the brain, central nervous system and kidneys.
Without enough carbs in our diet, our body has to rely on alternate, more inefficient energy pathways that ultimately leave us weak, tired and light-headed.
Since carbohydrates provide most of the energy needed in our daily lives – both for normal body functions and for exercise, an ample supply of carbohydrates is absolutely necessary to sustain health and is non-negotiable if your goal is to reduce body fat.
Good Carbs & Bad Carbs
The misunderstandings involving carbs is often related to their effect on blood sugar. The relationship between carbohydrates and blood sugar is important to understand. It is this that has great bearing on weight loss and explains why not all carbs are equal.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Both types of carbs are digested and released into the bloodstream as glucose, which is then used as fuel for our bodies powering normal daily activity and essential bodily functions.
Simple carbohydrates are digested very quickly and cause cause a rapid surge in blood glucose levels. Your body responds promptly by releasing large amounts of insulin, to drive the glucose into most cells and restore blood glucose levels. In the cells glucose is burned for energy, stored as glycogen or transformed into and stored as fat.
- Your body has a tendency to ‘overreact’ to large surges in blood glucose by producing too much insulin resulting in a large dip in glucose levels (i.e. hypoglycemia). In eating a lot of simple carbs the release of insulin and blood sugar levels follows a peak and trough pattern, i.e. highs followed by lows. The ‘lows’ in blood glucose are accompanied by fatigue, dizziness and weakness. It is also associated with hunger pangs and cravings leading to a vicious circle of eating foods high in sugar. This results in a day characterized by continual highs and lows.
- Insulin activates lipoprotein lipase – a fat storage enzyme! This enzyme acts as a roadblock for the removal of triglycerides (fat) out of fat cells. Insulin inhibits an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase. This enzyme functions in breaking down of stored fats.
Controlling blood glucose and therefore insulin levels aids weight loss. Aim to keep these levels as even as possible. How? Limit your intake of refined and simple carbohydrates as much as you can.
Complex carbs on the other hand, take longer to digest and are able to provide you with a more controlled release of blood sugar (and the corresponding insulin response). You get sustained levels of energy, without the highs and lows in blood glucose and energy that you would experience with simple carbs and generally provide better nutrition value.
This allows you to feel fuller for a longer period of time, typically for the up to 3 hours. Therefore, aim incorporate mostly complex carbs in your diet, instead of simple carbs.