Carbohydrate Conundrum :
The Role of Carbohydrates in Weight Loss and Maintenance
This week, I’m continuing my weight loss theme and looking at the high profile role of carbohydrates (carbs) in weight issues.
We love our carbs! Mealtimes centre on them and our snacks are crammed full of them with, on average, 50% of our daily food consumption dedicated to this one food group. However, with an escalating obesity epidemic, are carbohydrates working for or against us in terms of weight management?
Carbohydrates are foods which our bodies break down into glucose which is then converted by our body cells into energy. Carbs can be divided into 2 categories :
Simple carbs : also known as simple sugars, these are found in table sugar, sugary snacks (cakes, cookies, biscuits, sweets), sweetened drinks, milk and fruit. Simple carbohydrates are broken down into glucose very quickly in the digestive tract and are digested and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. Very much like a piece of paper burns on a fire, they produce energy very speedily, but this energy is used up swiftly and disappears.
Complex carbs , which can be divided into 2 main types :
Starchy carbs : these are found in grains such as wheat, oats and rice. Refined sources of these carbs, such as white flour, rice, pasta and crackers, have undergone industrial processing, which removes nutrients and fibre and renders their digestive speed very similar to simple sugars. However, wholegrains, or unrefined grains, which have not been processed, still contain vitamins, minerals and fibre and are absorbed much slower into the blood stream due to their more complex make-up, and are the best choice of starchy carbohydrates. I liken wholegrain starchy carbs to a log on a fire, slow-burning and releasing energy over a sustained period of time.
Vegetable and pulse carbs : these tend to have a low sugar content and are packed full of important vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients. Again their digestion is much slower like the log burning on a fire, and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.
The Insulin Connection
Insulin is a hormone which regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in our blood. Insulin supervises a careful balancing act to keep our blood sugar levels within a normal range, which helps maintain a healthy metabolism.
Our blood sugar levels rise when we eat most foods, but they rise more rapidly when we eat carbohydrates. In certain situations, for example after a high carbohydrate or sugar rich meal (e.g. white bread, white pasta, cakes, biscuits and sweets) lots of insulin is produced and floods the bloodstream. When insulin is high, glucose is driven from the bloodstream into our body cells very quickly and rapidly converted into energy, resulting in a quick energy boost which, however, doesn’t last very long, and is always followed by an energy slump unless more glucose is pumped into the system from further carbohydrate intake. This slump often results in food cravings for sugar, which is our body’s natural response to restore blood sugar levels. It also tends to be accompanied by fatigue, low mood and irritability.
The Important Bit!!
Insulin is known as the fattening hormone because it loves turning excess carbohydrates (i.e. those that are in excess of our energy needs) into fat and depositing them in our fat stores.Therefore, the key to weight loss is to keep insulin levels naturally low by concentrating carbohydrate intake on complex carbohydrates, particularly the vegetable and pulse varieties, and ditching the refined and simple nutrient-poor carbohydrates. My rule of thumb for mealtimes is : ½ plate vegetable/pulse carbs, ¼ starchy complex carbs, and ¼ protein, as illustrated in the diagram above.
Please see the blog page of my website by clicking on the website icon below for healthy recipe ideas designed to maintain balanced blood glucose levels.
If you are struggling with your weight, or have any other health concerns, take the option of my free 20 minute telephone consultation to see how professional nutritional advice can benefit you. Check out my website at:
www.evolve-nutrition.co.uk for contact details or phone 01279 726640 to book a free initial telephone consultation.
For more weight loss tips, look out for next week's blog.
Juliet Schaffer, Nutritionist, Evolve Nutrition