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What are good carbs?

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The recent dieting trends have seen carbohydrates aggressively vilified as the macronutrient responsible for poor health states in modern society. There have been strong correlations that link chronic disease such as obesity and Type 2 Diabetes with excessive carbohydrate consumption, drawing claims that we should be avoiding the food group all together. However, there are others that promote carbohydrate consumption as essential for performance and function, so who’s right?

The truth is, both sides have good arguments with evidence both for and against each case. But like with most things health related, it appears that carbohydrate requirements are highly individual specific. Some people will benefit from a low carb diet while others can manage a higher carb intake just fine. So lets break down carbohydrates to help give you some ground to stand on when deciding which dietary method is best for you.

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients that our body requires to function and obtain energy, the other two being fats and protein. The main purpose of a carbohydrate in the body is to provide energy in the form of glucose, a molecule our body gets through the breakdown of carbohydrates. Excessive amounts of carbohydrates can also be turned into fat and stored as body fat. This acts as a reserve fuel source for later use if and when required. Fiber can be considered an exception to this, as it does not provide us with energy directly. Instead, it helps to feed good bacteria and aid in sustaining healthy gut function and a good digestive system.

It is important to understand that not all carbs are created equal. We can break them up into 4 categories:

  • Sugars: Short-chains of glucose molecules, quickly broken down
  • Starches: Long-chains of glucose molecules, take longer to digest
  • Fiber: Not digested, instead used by bacteria in the digestive tract
  • Sugar alcohols: Technically classed as a carbohydrate but provide very little energy value (calories)

Each category of carbohydrate has its own way of reacting in the body and the health effects of each can vary greatly. We most commonly see carbohydrates broken up into two groups, ‘simple’ and ‘complex’. This is probably the easiest way to break down types of carbohydrates and their effect on our bodies when ingested.

A ‘simple’ carbohydrate refers to the more refined forms of carbs that are digested and broken down easily by the body. Due to their fast digestion, consumption of these refined carbohydrates will often cause major spikes in blood sugar levels, more often than not leading to a subsequent crash in blood sugar levels. This crash is responsible for triggering hunger and craving, even soon after consuming a meal. Added sugar is the most refined type of carbohydrate and is the worst one for our health. Often an “empty” calorie that our body does not require. It is this form of carbohydrate and its ease of over consumption, coupled with palatability and cravings that creates links to chronic disease such as obesity and Diabetes from carbohydrate consumption.

This being said, we cannot completely demonise all carb-containing foods based purely on the adverse health effects associated with the highly processed forms of carbohydrates. ‘Complex’ carbohydrates are unprocessed, often naturally occurring, fiber containing whole foods. These types of carbohydrates provide us with a far more steady blood sugar reading allowing us to avoid the constant spikes and dips in energy associated with simple carbohydrates. Complex carbs are often whole food sources and are packed with nutrients and fiber, which elicit an array of health benefits by delivering a wide spectrum of micronutrients essential for optimal health and bodily function.

While there is a definite correlation between excessive carbohydrate consumption and obesity, it is important to note that this correlation does not mean causation. Humans have been consuming carbs long before the obesity epidemic set in and there are countless examples of how high carb diets can illicit excellent health benefits when done correctly.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can never eat simple, refined, processed carbs ever again, I mean, they are so tasty, who’d want to give that up for good… However, we do preach moderation and balance, and it is important to aim to consume the majority of our food from whole, unprocessed sources, with the occasional treat here and there. While carbohydrates are technically not an “essential” macronutrient, many carb-containing plants and whole food are leaded with beneficial nutrients and provide a fantastic source of fiber that our body does require, so consuming them is not exactly a bad idea.

By understanding how your body will respond to different forms of carbohydrates we are able to be selective and utilise carbohydrates when the body requires them and avoid the negative blood sugar responses that carbs have become known for. Choosing the right types of carbohydrates to include in your diet on a daily basis, allows us to eat and enjoy the food we like, while optimising the results of our hard training and dedication.

Author Glen George from our Blackburn store! Come in and ask any of our staff about more information about this article!

Also if you’re after a product that helps you utilise your carbs efficiently for muscle glycogen and prevent fat storage then RPG from Redcon1 is the perfect product for you! Online soon but in all stores now!

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