The Need for Carbohydrates in Our Diet!

Why do We Need Carbs?
  • Carbohydrates have always been under the radar of causing weight issues and also leading to health issues.
  • But are all carbohydrates the culprit? Isn’t there the concept of carbohydrates that are healthy and contain the good amount of fibre.
  • Carbohydrates are the main energy source which the body needs.It has beneficial effects on the protein sparing action and is an important constituent for the functioning of the brain.

We have nowadays started to consciously choose what to eat every day and what diet pattern is needed to follow in order to maintain good health. In the course of achieving ideal body weight, we tend to skip certain nutrients drastically without knowing the consequences. Normally we tend to opt for “low carbohydrate” or “no carbohydrate” diet in order to achieve our goal. But do we really have to avoid carbohydrates totally? Are carbs so bad for health? The answer is no. Just as any other nutrient is essential, it is necessary that we have carbohydrates too in proper amounts. The amount of carbohydrates needed and what kind of carbohydrate should be consumed is what makes the difference.

Why do We Need Carbs?

Why do We Need Carbs?

Carbohydrate is a macronutrient that our body needs and consists of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates are the main energy source which is used first, even before protein, fat or alcohol. About 45 to 60 % of the daily energy intake is recommended to come from carbohydrates.

1. Carbohydrates are Essential for the Brain

This function is very important in the need for carbohydrates. Our brain needs carbohydrate in the form of glucose. If the brain doesn’t get glucose, then the ability to think, learn and remember may start diminishing as the neurotransmitters in the brain may not get enough glucose to synthesize properly.

2. Carbohydrates are Main Energy Source

Carbohydrates are the main energy source that provides up to 4 kcals per gram. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose before it can be absorbed. Glucose is then used in the body that can be utilized for our daily activities.The unused glucose is converted into glycogen that can be stored in the liver and muscles. The more glucose, if consumed than that the body needs to be stored as glycogen, is stored as fat for long-term storage for energy. Our body prefers to use carbohydrates as a fuel for energy which can be metabolized aerobically and anaerobically. At the low or moderate intensity of exercise or when the intensity increases to 40 to 60%, carbohydrates are metabolized aerobically for energy. High fibre carbohydrate-rich foods release the sugar into the blood slowly than sugary beverages and drinks.

3. Carbohydrate for Protein Sparing

When we consume enough carbohydrates and proteins, the body works at its best. Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and help us to provide energy when the level of glucose in the blood is too low. If the glycogen levels are very less, then our body will signal the muscles to release protein from the tissues thus depleting the muscles from the body. When our body needs to break down protein from the muscles, we tend to feel weakened. The kidney needs to exert more in order to excrete waste products from the breakdown of protein in the urine. As the carbohydrates are depleted and if there is constant use of protein, it can lead to adverse mental symptoms like dizziness, weakness and decreased performance. Hence it is very necessary to consume enough carbohydrates so that the protein is spared from being used as energy source.

4. Carbohydrates Provide Fibre

Whole grains, pulses, vegetables and potatoes when eaten with skin are a good source of fibre which helps in promoting good bowel movement, reduces constipation and helps in reducing cholesterol levels. We need to eat on an average about 30 grams of fibre per day. Diets high in fibre are related to lower risk of cardiovascular issues.

Type 2 diabetes and also help to reduce bowel cancer. However, we don’t eat enough of fibre in our daily diet which is actually necessary to achieve beneficial results.

With so many benefits that are considered essential for our everyday activities, then why carbohydrates need to go through the radar of not so good for health or the emergence of “low carbohydrate” or “ no carbohydrate” diet.

When we say about 45% to 60 % of the daily energy intake is from carbohydrates, we should see to it that we don’t go overboard with the consumption and even the selection of the right amount or type of carbohydrates are essential. When we limit to recommended intakes of carbohydrates, we tend to reap benefits of having carbohydrates without bringing out the negative consequences.

Not all carbohydrates are healthy and can result in various issues if consumed in higher quantities for the longer period of time. Certain carbohydrates like those present in whole grain,pulses,fruits and vegetables are rich in fibre and causes slow increase in blood sugar levels and are recommended whereas foods that contain simple sugars like white rice, white bread, sweetened beverages, refined foods or added sugar into the foods during preparation and processing does not add nutrients and causes spikes in blood sugar level.

Hence clear off with unhealthy carbohydrates, if possible to avoid weight gain.

What are the Disadvantages of Consuming Too Much of Carbohydrates or Unhealthy Carbohydrates?

1. Weight gain

Going overboard with carbohydrates leads to increase in caloric intake thus leading to increase in weight. Having unhealthy carbohydrates like those present in refined products, white bread, white rice etc. don’t promote satiety like foods rich in fibre present in whole grain cereals, legumes fruits and vegetables leading to increased weight gain.

2. Enhances blood sugar level

Carbohydrates tend to cause the elevation in blood sugar after eating a meal. If you are suffering from diabetes, then the blood sugar levels may not be regulated properly especially if you are getting overboard with carbohydrates. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can result in ketoacidosis that causes shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and even coma.

Hence we need to understand that it’s not the carbohydrate as the whole that has a bad reputation for weight gain or elevated sugar levels. It all depends on the choice of your carbohydrate and amount of this macronutrient that you are consuming. If we consciously select the foods on certain principles like low glycemic index or having high fibre content then, it is always beneficial to have carbohydrates for better health.  Hence let us come to know how healthy carbohydrate works well in a diet.

Aim at Choosing Fibre Rich Fruits and Vegetables

1. Prefer Whole Grains

Whole grains are the good source of fibre and other nutrients like B vitamins than the refined counterparts.

2. Stick to Low-fat Dairy Products

Milk, yoghurt or cheese contain protein and calcium, hence considered to have the low-fat version of dairy products that contain lesser calories and saturated fats. Also, avoid milk that contains added sugar.

3. Avoid Added Sugar

Having added sugar in smaller amounts is not a problem but when consumed in larger amounts like those present in white sugar, baked goods or sweetened processed foods can lead to increase blood sugar level. Even studies suggest that about 10% of calories come from the added sugar present in foods.

Thus it’s not the carbohydrate as a nutrient that is a culprit of causing the health risk. It is important to choose carbohydrates wisely and with proper portion control. If carbohydrate is consumed with respect to calorie controlled diet by having foods that are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and legumes, then the carbohydrate is consumed in a healthier manner and reduced disease risk. However, if consumption of foods containing added sugar is very high then it is very difficult to consume nutrients without gaining weight.

Hence, Carbohydrates are the essential nutrient that makes an important constituent of a balanced diet. It’s always a misconception that carbohydrates are fattening or unhealthy. Yes, if we go overboard with the consumption of carbohydrate then it can affect our health. Even when we select the type of carbohydrate that we consume like if we have more of simple carbohydrates consisting of white sugar or refined flour then it is not so great for health but if we prefer wholesome foods like whole grains or legumes or foods containing sugar naturally then it is always favored to have such carbohydrates as it will not cause any harm to us and will always be beneficial for health. Thus its just the matter of choice. We don’t need to totally avoid carbohydrates.

FAQs

1. What will be the consequence of being on low carbohydrate diet?

If having low carbohydrate diet for short duration, then it will not show its effects. But if low carbohydrate diet is opted for the longer duration or for the prolonged period of time, hinder the consumption of fibre rich foods like those present in fruits, vegetables and whole grain. The deficiency of fibre can always affect the functioning of a gastrointestinal system. Even low carbohydrate diet can lead to ketosis causing kidney stones and gout. Not all low carb foods are low in calories. Hence it is essential that you choose foods in proper balance and also combine diet with exercise.

2. If I cannot avoid, how much sugar can I Have in a day?

The World Health Organization has reduced the reduced the caloric intake from sugar to half i.e. from 10 percent of the total calories to 5 percent of the total calories. For a normal adult that comes up to 25 gms or 6 teaspoons per day. Now that’s total sugar a day and we need to distinguish between sugars present naturally and sugar added into the foods. Hence prefer foods that contain sugar naturally rather than added sugar.

3. Apart from fibre, what are the other important nutrients that are present in carbohydrate foods?

Apart from starch and fibre present in complex carbohydrates, foods like whole grains, legumes contain B vitamins, selenium and zinc. The fruits and vegetables also contain Vitamins like Vitamin A and C and minerals like iron, potassium and calcium.

Read Next – Healthy Carbohydrates for Weight Loss!

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Mrs. Anita Varier is a Post Graduate in Home Science with specialization in Food Science and Nutrition from S.N.D.T Women's University, Mumbai. She cleared her NET(Lecturership) exam in 2004 and taught students at Post Graduate level. Some of her works have been published in dietetic journals and websites, the most notable being "Blending of edible oils to achieve nutritionally favourable fatty acid ratios" in Journal of Oil Technologists' Association of India. She is an avid reader and shows immense interest in the field of art like dance and music.

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