Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5. Nutrition Facts - Scary Carbs

Carbs are by far my favourite subject. Just up until recently, fat used to be the bad guy then carbs took over. There really is no doubt that carbs have become a subject of conversation all over the world. Some people say there are bad while others say are good. However, what I find so interesting is how passionate people get about the subject. People who believe that carbs are bad really take their stand very seriously. Just to prove my point, I know people who don’t mind having a pound of bacon for dinner because bacon has no carbs. They don’t really care if there are thousands of calories or enourmous amounts of fat in that pound of bacon. All they care about is the carb content. To make matters more interesting, whenever there is a discussion revolving around carbs, they get very opinionated. Who knew carbs could evoke such strong emotions in us?
Anyway, let’s get to the facts. In general, we have carbs in the form of starch, sugars and fibre and either of these types can be found practically anywhere except for a few animal products like meats and cheese. Other than that, everything else has at least some carbs. Because carbs are so abundant in nature and our supermarkets, we have evolved in such a way that our bodies can easily digest carbs. In fact, carbohydrates are the easiest macronutrient to digest. We even start digesting carbs right at the mouth. We digest carbs so easily and efficiently also because our nervous system, mainly the brain, can only use glucose or glucose derivatives for energy. By the way, glucose is the building block of carbs. Thus, we need carbs to keep our brains awake. You might then be wondering why is it that our nervous system keeps working when we are on a no-carb diet? The reason is that when we have no carbs, we start using our body’s lean muscle or the protein we eat to make those glucose derivatives (ketones) that our nervous system is equipped to use. This switch from real glucose to ketones is what is very well known as starvation mode.

The main problem that people have with carbs is that they supposedly make you fat instead of helping you lose weight. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that. In our bodies, only a limited amount of carbs can be stored as carbs and the rest cannot be converted into anything else but fat. So if you have a few extra carbs and your carbohydrate storage is full, these extra carbs will turn into fat. However, this only applies to the excess of carbs. Thus, only excess carbs are the problem. To avoid this unwanted excess, you should be having between 45 and 65% of your calories as carbs. There is also a minimum requirement set at 130 grams of carbs per day. It is estimated that our nervous system needs this amount per day. In case you’re wondering, there are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate. Finally, don't forget that complex carbs (whole grain) will help you lose weight as opposed to sugars. The reccomendation is that you should be having no more than 25% of your calories from sugar. Although these are the established recommendations, nutritional labels use a daily value of 300g of carbs per 2000 calories. No wonder why we are always so confused about how much we actually need?

There is some good news, though. The diet programs that have reported the highest rates of success were using diets that included carbs as the main component. This is because carbs often provide you with that sense of fullness or satiety. Thus, you don’t have as many calories in the day and you don’t feel hungry for longer periods of time. Remember that your weight loss depends on the amount of calories in and the amount of calories out – that’s all.


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