Greetings from sunny Florida, or FLO-RIDA depending on your preference of pronunciation. I’ve already had my first Florida orange, and it was delicious.
As we delve further into March I wanted to touch on the ever popular subject of the majestic (and often misunderstood) carbohydrate.
Low carb diets are always a popular topic- as they have been shown to be effective in weight loss.
But what is too low?
What do carbs even do for us?
As a runner, and a Diabetes Educator- my life essentially revolves around carbs. I like to think I have a better understanding of carbs than the average person.
So let’s get down to brass tax.
Carbs or carbohydrates are: fruits, milk, yogurt, ice cream starches, breads, rices, pastas, crackers, chips, grains (and therefore anything grain based- like flour, corn meal etc), potatoes, peas, corn, beans, nuts, seeds, SUGAR (sugar like table sugar or any other variety like corn syrup- they are all carbs), and therefore any products that contain sugar and also items like honey, syrups, and certain condiments.
As many of you know- not all carbs are created equal. Some contain starchy properties (potatoes, and bananas) while some contain simple sugars. Carbs can be broken into simple carbs and complex carbs.
Carbohydrates on the most basic level – provide our body energy. When we eat carbs they turn into glucose – a type of sugar our body uses for energy. After a meal a specific portion of this glucose is used to make energy in our body. Then another small portion is deposited into our body’s glucose savings account, AKA our liver and muscles, and its stored in a special form called glycogen.
Any left over glucose is typically stored as fat. That is the most simplistic explanation. There is more to it than that.
In order for our body to use glucose it needs to be placed in our cells. So as carb foods are digested, and turned into glucose, that glucose is absorbed into the blood. BUT glucose isn’t used as our energy source when it just sits in our blood. It needs to put in our bodies’ cells – that is where it is used as energy. Insulin is the key that unlocks the cell doors to allow the glucose in.
Ok. So if it’s not clear yet why you need carbs let me say it again: they are our one energy source. Food items like protein, and fat do not “bring sugar to the party” – therefore they don’t bring energy to the party. In the right amounts (just like carbs) protein and fat are also important in our diets but they don’t provide our bodies energy in the seamless fashion that carbs do.
So what’s with all of these low carb diets?
Well they are popular because they work. See I said it. BUT they are not sustainable.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: OUR BODIES ARE SMARTER THAN WE ARE.
Our bodies can take protein and fat and turn it into energy – but that requires more energy, and it makes our bodies unhappy.
Have you ever been on one of those ultra low carb diets? Or have you ever cut out processed sugar or carbs cold turkey? Guess what happens at one point or the other?
Hence my bottom line: You need carbs. But more carbs does not mean more energy- too few carbs – your body will find a way to remind you need some (i.e. carb cravings).
Now due to the fact these crabbie carbs provide energy – the more energy you expend (endurance training) the more carbs you will actually require, since on those long distance runs you will be burning through those glycogen stores.
Just remember: balance my friends. It always helps to know what those carb foods are, then make healthy choices within those carb foods, and even though you’re making healthy choices, you don’t need massive portions.
Balance balance balance my fine friends (and yes, balance includes cupcakes from time to time!)
“Breaking the Metabolic Code”