My last post about nutrition was all about protein – talking about all the key principles of structure, function and where to find it. Today, I would like to go a little deeper into the second food group I have mentioned: Carbohydrates. While they’re being all bullied and talked about badly by all sorts of people nowadays – we often forget or simply don’t realise, that they are our most important and popular source of energy. So, all the diets and meal plans that cut out any sort of carbs – are crappy. Forget about them. Because that’s by far too extreme. The actual issue with carbs we have in today’s society (at least in western culture) – is that we consume far too much and wrong sorts of it. Plus, we add far too much fat to it. Sometimes the whole meal quintessentially consists of carbs and additionally, we tend to overload our plates with it – to an extent that’s doing more harm than good.
So, while too much of it is making us ill and often chubby – we really need a small amount of it daily to keep our engine running properly. By engine I’m talking about energy levels and our metabolism. But let’s start simply by clarifying: What are carbohydrates actually?
Carbohydrates consist of sugar molecules called glucose. They’re aligned in long chains and there are different sorts or chains and arrangements. The most common source of glucose we consume is starch. Starch is the storage form for glucose in plants (forming long chains, as I mentioned before) and therefore a main source for carbs. The storage form of glucose in animals and human beings is glycogen. The only difference between those two is their detailed structure. So, when consuming starch, its digestion starts already in our mouth – that’s due to enzymes in our saliva breaking those chains down into smaller pieces. And by the time the food reaches the stomach and gut the whole chain will eventually be cut into tiny pieces (the necessary enzymes in our gut are produced in the pancreas). That’s necessary in order to absorb those tiny bits via the intestine wall, because otherwise they would be too big. And from there – via blood stream – the glucose is distributed to all different areas in our body. Smart system, right?
But what exactly do we need it for? The main function of glucose is to keep our bodies working the way they are supposed to. It’s doing so by being introduced to our metabolism and eventually transformed into CO2, water and energy. And this energy is exactly what we need and want to function properly. So, in case you have ever tried going carb-free for a few days (or know someone who did) – you might have notice a significant drop in your energy levels after some time. Of course, there are ways to mitigate this effect (fat is also a very potent source of energy – but actually shouldn’t be the main one (only 20-25%), you’ll see why in my next post about fats). But it’s never ideal for your body to go carb-free. Instead, try to opt for a healthy amount and sort of carbs. Normally, we cover about 60% of our daily energy needs with carbs (it can go as low as to 10% before metabolic problems occur).
In terms of the sort of carbs recommended, I would try to focus on whole grains – be it in bread, rice, pasta, plain or whatever. Processed (and that means any kind of “already worked with and changed even slightly”) foods often lose all their nutrients – because ironically that’s the part being removed to make the flour look whiter – and therefore the bread, pasta, etc. So, the reason why every health guru is obsessed with whole foods is that those foods are actually the only ones still containing valuable ingredients (vitamins and fiber!) and not only the plain glucose chain. The benefits are obvious.
And last but not least: Where can we find carbs in our food? Carbs can be found in everything containing flour – for example bread, pasta, baked goods and more. They can also be found in rice, potatoes, barley, quinoa, amaranth, oats, beans, chickpeas and so on. So, carbs are in a lot of things and there are many different options to get that goodness into our system.
I hope you enjoyed the read and are a little bit more educated about this topic by now. And I hope you now have the tools to better understand this food group and its significance and value for our metabolism. Don’t be afraid of carbs – be smart about them!
Let me know what you thin in the comments or message me! I hope you’re having a good day!
Taschenatlas Physiologie, Stefan Silbernagl, Georg Thieme Verlag, 8th edition, page 238