Nutritional recommendations during the past decade were based on carbohydrates as the main nutrient. Bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes were supposed to be the base of our nutrition. During the last years, the reputation of carbohydrates changed. Now they often are labeled to be the evil of our modern diet.
It’s quite difficult to make up our mind and to decide whether certain information is helpful or just dogmatic. The following article will help you to simplify the benefits and disadvantages of carbohydrates for you. I will follow up with simple strategies for your daily life.
Carbohydrates deliver fast energy
Energy from carbs (carbohydrates) is easy to use. That’s the reason why our body relies on this source mainly for the energy supply of our brain and for demands of high energy (e.g. sports). Often this is used as an excuse to consume excess sugar (=carbohydrates).
But there is a difference between kinds of carbohydrates, based on their composition and the resulting speed to be used as energy. We can divide between “simple” and “complex” carbohydrates. Naming them as “fast” and “slow” carbs, makes it even more obvious, how fast they provide energy.
While “fast carbohydrates” like sugar, white pasta, white bread and most sweet beverages provide energy in an instant, they have the disadvantage to cause sugar cravings. This makes them perfect for diabetics with acute under-sugar, but dangerous as the main source of energy for everybody else.
Fast carbohydrates demand a permanent activity of our pancreas to transport the sugar to our cells by insulin. Sooner or later, the pancreas gets tired or overwhelmed. Our blood sugar remains too high which means we are not burning fat. If this condition persists, we are not able to manage our blood sugar and become diabetics. In addition, foods which are high in sugar, provide much more energy than we can use. This causes us to gain fat and to get seriously ill.
In contrast, “slow carbohydrates” deliver long-term energy. They avoid sugar cravings and fluctuations in our energy level. We find this kind of carbohydrates in less processed foods like vegetables, salads, legumes, wholemeal pasta or brown rice. In addition, they provide the advantage of a better satiety due to a high fiber content, which helps us to shed unwanted fat without dieting or starvation.
Natural, less processed foods play a key role in nourishing our body with the required vitamins and minerals to stay healthy, fit and lean as long as we can. Choosing the right sources of carbohydrates supports this goal perfectly.
Simple Tips for Every Day
Here are my great tips to make the right choices and to benefit from carbohydrates:
- Reduce sugar in foods and beverages step by step: Choose smaller portions or start to dilute sweet drinks with water to get used to the less sweet taste. Our brain and tongue need a bit of time to adjust.
- Prefer wholemeal bread and pasta as well as red rice. Be prepared to feel full much faster so you can choose smaller portions.
- Stay active if you love bread and pasta, because even they cause weight gain when we eat more than we burn. Our body stores the excess energy as fat.
- Drink enough water because foods with a high content of slow carbohydrates often contain fibers as well. Fiber might cause constipation if we do not drink enough water.
- Choose: Prefer fruits over sweets as often as possible.
- Portion size starchy carbs: If you are not a professional athlete, the portion of carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes) for the main meals should not be bigger than your fist.
- Leafy greens: Fill half of your plate with vegetables, salads, and legumes, they provide the nutrients and satiety you need.
- Competition: While slow carbohydrates are the best choice in daily life, you should avoid them right before a competition. They might cause stomach cramps. White pasta or rice with some light gravy and lean protein are better choices for this occasion (about 3-4 hours before competition).
- Recovery: To promote recovery after training our body needs some carbohydrates. Often we are afraid to eat bread or noodles if we want to lose weight. But having low-carb snacks after intense training sessions might cause us to feel sluggish, tired and have sugar cravings later in the day.
- Every step counts: Even seemingly small steps provide a big benefit over a longer time: If you reduce the sugar in your coffee or tea from 2 to 1 teaspoons twice a day you save about 1.800 calories each month and about 14.000 each year. Just by this tiny change, you can lose about 2 kg of excess weight.
To return to the initial question: “Carbohydrates: Demon or Angel” the answer is: it depends. While fast carbohydrates can be lifesavers for diabetics, they increase the risk of overweight and diabetes in daily life. Slow carbohydrates are the perfect choice for daily nutrition if we eat them in moderation but might cause a decrease in performance, when eaten by an athlete, right before a competition
Equipped with all the knowledge you can now start to make better choices for a great health, each day!
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