Carbohydrates are foods, which contain similar ratios of the elements, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The group consists of gums, cellulose, sugars, and starches. They serve as the body’s primary fuel source when converted to glucose, a simple sugar used by the body as a quick source of energy.
2 FORMS OF CARBS
Carbohydrates come in two forms simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars occur in processed and refined foods. Sources of simple sugars include refined cane sugar (white table sugar), honey, fruit, dairy products, and vegetables.
Complex carbohydrates consist a series of linked simple carbohydrates and fiber. Starchy foods contain complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrate sources include whole grain products, pastas, rice, cereals, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, bread, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, corn, and zucchini.
When considering which carbohydrates provide the greatest health benefits, complex carbohydrates give more nutritional benefits. They contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber lacking in simple carbohydrates. They also provide the body with slow and consistent fuel keeping insulin levels even and consistent.
Simple sugars cause insulin levels to spike which can lead to insulin resistance for some people if simple sugars are a primary carbohydrate source. Insulin resistance has been consistently linked to patterns of obesity and diabetes.
While the body treats all sugar as fuel, the way it metabolize them greatly influences their long term effects on the body.
WHAT IS A LOW CARB DIET?
Low carb diets include a low level of mostly complex carbohydrates with most calories coming from protein and fat. Recently low carb diets have become increasingly more popular as people find them to be so effective for weight loss. In fact, restricting carbohydrates effectively supports weight loss according to a study described in the September issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
However, the quality of the carbohydrates consumed is equal in importance to monitoring the amount. The fiber in complex carbohydrates plays a significant role in supporting heart health as well. Dietitians recommend consuming 60 to 130 grams of carbohydrates daily.
Protein and fat sources for low carbohydrate diets need to be lean and healthy. Protein sources include fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and some non-starchy vegetables. Healthy fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) sources include unrefined nut, seed and vegetable oils like sunflower seed oil, olive oil and coconut oil.
HOW DOES A LOW CARB DIET SUPPORT HEART HEALTH?
For several decades, low carb and low fat diets received a great deal of endorsement and attention for supporting weight loss and overall health. It was also unclear which approach provides the most effective results for weight loss.
A recent study indicates a low carbohydrate diet works best for weight loss with the added benefit of decreasing risk factors for developing heart disease.
Both diets allow people to lose weight effectively, however low carb diets appear to allow people do so with more success.
According to the randomized trial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a small group of obese dieters divided into two groups, one following a low fat diet and the other a low carbohydrate diet, found the low carbohydrate group lost more weight during the year long study.
They also showed greater decreases in body fat and triglycerides, risk factor for heart disease, and increased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), good cholesterol.
While a low carbohydrate, diet supports short-term weight loss and heart health, other characteristics of a low carb diet may be more significant causal factors. The higher amounts of protein and fat allow dieters to feel full longer which may lead them to eat less in general. Low carb diets done well also provide fewer calories.
Low-carb diets must be carefully planned to ensure enough carbohydrates are consumed. Consuming less than 20 grams of carbohydrates can cause uncomfortable symptoms including:
- Bad breath
- Constipation or diarrhea
As a primary source of energy, high quality carbohydrates keep the body healthy and well fueled for daily activities and functions. Choosing healthy and unrefined carbohydrates as part of a balanced diet while limiting the amount consumed supports heart health.
Carefully monitor your energy levels and digestive response while on a low-carb diet and adjust your intake to meet your nutritional and caloric requirements.