Nutrition

Myths & Misconceptions About Carbohydrates Debunked

By April 7, 2021No Comments
carbohydrates

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding carbohydrates, but before discussing them, we need to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a carbohydrate.

A carbohydrate is an organic compound such as sugars, starches and fibres. It is an important component for nutrition, since it can be broken down into energy inside the human body. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose or blood sugar is the main source of energy for your body’s cells, tissues and organs. Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use. There are three main types of carbohydrates:

Sugars: They are also called simple carbohydrates because they are in the most basic form and consist of Monosaccharides (Glucose, Fructose, Galactose) and Disaccharides (Maltose, Lactose, Sucrose). They include foods such as the sugar in candy, desserts and processed foods. They also include the kinds of sugar that are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and milk.

Starches: They are complex carbohydrates, which consist of Polysaccharides (Starches, Fibres, Glycogen). Your body needs to break starches down into sugars to use them for energy. Starches include bread, cereal, and pasta. They also include certain vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn.

Fibres: It is also a complex carbohydrate. Your body cannot break down most fibres, so eating foods with fibre can help you feel full and make you less likely to overeat. Diets high in fibre have other health benefits. They will help prevent stomach or intestinal problems such as constipation. They will also help lower blood sugar and LDL (low density lipoprotein) levels called bad cholesterol. Fibre is found in many foods that come from plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains (barley, oatmeal, brown rice).

Carbohydrates make you put on weight

In fact, this can be quite the opposite. Nutritionists say that carbohydrates can actually help people lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. One of the reasons is due to the fibre content in carbohydrates. Fibre keeps you full and invigorated. Overeating white bread and rotis are not going to help anyone lose weight. Plus, limiting carbohydrates means loading up on proteins and fats, which are much higher in calories, which may add to weight gain instead of the carbohydrates themselves.

The fact is, carbohydrates do not cause instant weight gain. Carbohydrates are not naturally high in fat, but it is the cooking process that adds fat and calories. However, starchy carbohydrates do have a tendency to be calorie-dense. Consuming these extra calories is what causes weight gain. Even some complex carbohydrates can be calorie-dense, so be aware of your serving size if you wish to avoid weight gain.

Your daily carbohydrate need can be based on your caloric intake. If you know how many calories you need each day, you can find out how many grams of carbohydrates you need:

1. Start by determining your daily calorie need and divide that number in half. That is how many calories should come from carbohydrates.

2. Each gram of carbohydrate has four calories. Divide the number you got from the first step by four.

3. The final number is equal to the number of carbohydrates in grams you need each day.

For example, a person who eats approximately 2,000 calories per day, should take in about 250 grams of carbohydrates (2,000 divided by 2 = 1,000 and 1,000 divided by 4 = 250).

Carbohydrates are difficult to digest

While it is true that some foods that are high in fibre can give your digestive system more trouble, this is not the case for all carbohydrates and should not deter you from having them regularly. Foods higher in insoluble fibre like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are more difficult to dissolve in the digestive tract and can be the reason of a stomach upset. Soluble fibres found in whole grains, bananas and certain vegetables like peppers and cucumbers are the right carbohydrates to get your digestive system back on track. If you are concerned about your digestive system, consider modifying your diet.

Protein is more important than carbohydrate

Protein is essential, especially if you are leading an active lifestyle and are constantly training your muscles like weight lifting, track and field events or any other high intensity physical activity, but carbohydrates cannot be ignored in relation to protein. It is commonly acknowledged that a diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein can kick start the body’s metabolism even more. Moreover, protein and carbohydrates work harmoniously to help you process sugar. Eating a combination of protein and vegetables can prevent glucose from spiking after the meal. However, protein taken immediately after a high intensity physical activity like a marathon or cycling aids in muscle recovery.

Carbohydrates should not be taken before exercise

The right kind of carbohydrates will not affect your physical activity before a work out. It is all about timing and the type of grain you choose to consume before the activity. In an athlete’s diet, carbohydrates cannot be missing. They are necessary to give immediate energy and improve performance, but obviously they must be controlled and consumed at a timed distance from training. If you are working out in the late afternoon, a plate of 70 to 80 grams of whole grain pasta for lunch with some cheese will not be very heavy on the stomach. After the workout, protein is required to restore the muscles.

Fruits in carbohydrates can cause diabetes due to high sugar content

There is a common adage that fruit has too much sugar in it. Yet, along with a natural form of sugar, called fructose, fruit is full of nutrients that our bodies need. Research reveals that those who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing diabetes, along with other chronic diseases.

However, replacing fruits with packaged fruit juice increases the risk for developing diabetes. Packaged fruit juices lack the same amount of fibre and other nutrients as whole fruit. The positive connection between fruit juice intake and diabetes risk may also be related to the liquid state and the additional sugars and preservatives added to packaged juices.

Do not eat carbohydrates earlier during the day

If you are an average, healthy person, you can eat some carbohydrates with each of your meals throughout the day. However, consuming carbohydrates earlier during the day may be better if you want to lose weight or improve blood sugar levels. Most people are active early in the day and more sedentary at night. Hence, it makes more sense to eat carbohydrates earlier during the day.

Eating more carbohydrates will make you feel tired

It is a common misconception that consuming too many carbohydrates will make you feel tired and unproductive. A study discovered that it was not only the size of the meal that is a factor, but also the protein and salt content that made the subjects slip into a lethargic mood.

Carbohydrates are not good for maintaining blood sugar

Bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereal, dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables are staples in many diets. All deliver carbohydrates. For providing calories, one carbohydrate is as good as another. When it comes to health, some are better than others. Picking good carbohydrates can help you control your weight and ward off a host of chronic conditions from diabetes, heart disease to various cancers. One way to identify good carbohydrates is with the glycemic index (GI). This tool measures how much a food boosts blood sugar.

Glycemic Index categories can be very helpful for people trying to choose a healthy diet. High glycemic foods result in a quick spike in insulin and blood sugar (also known as blood glucose). On the contrary, low glycemic foods help you feel full longer; help keep blood sugar even. Low glycemic foods have a slower and smaller effect.

Blood sugar and insulin levels rise every time you eat something containing carbohydrates. How high they rise and how fast, depend on the food. A serving of white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure glucose resulting in a quick, high spike in blood sugar and insulin. A serving of lentils has a slower and smaller effect. The glycemic index captures these changes by rating the effect of a specific amount of a food on blood sugar compared with the same amount of pure glucose. A food with a glycemic index of 28 boosts blood sugar only 28% as much as pure glucose.

One with a glycemic index of 95 acts almost like pure glucose.

Eating this lower glycemic index carbohydrates like oatmeal, baked potato, pasta, corn and peas will help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

In the end, it can safely be assumed that carbohydrates are not bad. In fact, many nutritionists say you need to be eating carbohydrates, as long as you are eating the right kinds of carbohydrates and you do so in moderation. Carbohydrate-rich foods often have other important nutrients in them that you might miss if you avoid them entirely.
Basically carbohydrates should constitute between 45% and 65% of your diet. In a 2,000-calorie diet, that would be 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates each day. The general assumption is that a low carbohydrate diet can help you lose weight, but only if you diet in the right way.

Sanjai Banerji

Sanjai Banerji

Started running at the age of 48 in 2008 and has run more than 50 half marathons, marathons and ultra-races in 13 cities in India and abroad. In 2019, he became one of the oldest Indians to run in the top three marathons in Asia (Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore). His book, ‘Crossing the Finish Line’ was published in 2019.

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