Uncovering the Truth About Carbs: Separating Fact from Fiction

Carbohydrates...love them or hate them, they are here to stay.

And even though they cause so much alleged heartache for some, in reality, many of these are just perceived myths.

In this blog post, we are going to dispel some of these myths, and uncover the truth about carbohydrates.

What Are Carbohydrates Anyway?

Carbohydrates, known as the energy source of life, are an essential part of our diet. They are organic molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms that the human body uses to power active movement, and to store as energy.

chemical structure of glucose

There are three main types of carbohydrates: monosaccharides (simple sugars), disaccharides (compound sugars), and polysaccharides (complex carbs).

Monosaccharides provide quick fuel for the body during times when it needs a boost whereas disaccharides take time to turn into energy, and polysaccharides contain large amounts of glucose which can be slowly liberated and utilized over time.

Common Misconceptions About Carbs

There are a number of misconceptions about carbohydrates, with the ones most commonly perpetuated including:

Carbs Make You Gain Weight

One of the most common misconceptions about carbs is that they make you gain weight. While it is true that consuming too many carbs may indeed contribute to weight gain, the idea that carbs are inherently fattening isn't really true.

The reality is that weight gain or loss is ultimately determined by the balance of calories consumed versus calories burned.

Consuming too many calories, regardless of whether they come from carbs or any other macronutrient, will lead to weight gain, especially if your calorie usage is low.

However, certain scenarios do make it more likely for carbs to contribute to weight gain. For example, consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as sugary drinks and processed snacks, can lead to weight gain because these types of carbs are often high in calories and low in nutrients.

Additionally, consuming too many carbs in the absence of regular physical activity can also contribute to weight gain because the body may not be able to burn off all the excess energy.

In contrast, a diet that includes a balance of healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, in conjunction with regular physical activity can actually promote weight loss. These types of carbs provide essential nutrients and fiber, and they help to keep you feeling full and satisfied. It's important to understand that it's not carbs themselves that cause weight gain, but rather an imbalance of calorie intake and expenditure.

Then there are medical conditions that might impair carbohydrate usage, such as diabetes. These conditions can interfere with the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels properly, leading to weight gain if they are not managed correctly.

Carbs Are Not Beneficial for Your Health

Contrary to popular belief, carbs are beneficial for your health, and in many cases, absolutely essential. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy and they provide essential glucose that the body needs for proper functioning.

carbs are bad for you

In addition to providing energy, carbs can also help to regulate blood sugar levels, promote regular digestion, and provide other health-boosting effects.

For example, whole grains provide the fiber that can help to reduce cholesterol levels and promote heart health, while eating fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals.

It's important to note that not all carbs are created equal; refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary snacks may lack the nutritional benefits of more complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Moreover, the fiber contained in some of these carb sources is extremely beneficial for promoting gut health. Eating a balanced diet that includes healthy carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can be beneficial for overall health and well-being, disproving the myth that carbs are "bad".

Carbs Will Give You Diabetes

If carbs would cause diabetes, then all of us who eat carbs would have diabetes by now. This is simply not true, as type 2 diabetes is more closely linked to lifestyle factors such as a diet high in refined carbohydrates, being overweight or obese, and having a sedentary lifestyle than it is to eating healthy carb sources.

In fact, there have been several studies showing that eating a balanced diet with healthy carbs can actually help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

So, while it is true that some people may be at a higher risk of developing diabetes due to certain lifestyle factors, it is not true that all carbs are bad for those with diabetes or put you at an increased risk of getting the condition.

You Should Only Eat Carbs In The Morning

Another common myth is that you should only eat carbohydrates in the morning, as this will help to fuel your body and give you energy throughout the day.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that eating carbs at a particular time of day has any effect on weight loss or performance.

energy levels throughout the day

The truth is that everyone's body responds differently to different types and amounts of carbs, so it's essential to experiment with different combinations to see what works for you.

In general, it is recommended to try and spread out your carb intake throughout the day in order to ensure that you have a steady supply of energy from your meals.

If weight loss is the goal, then there might be a small advantage in consuming carbs earlier in the day, as your body's metabolism is typically faster at this time.

But overall, there just isn't enough of a difference to really lose sleep over it.

The Role of Carbs in A Healthy Diet

Energy Generation

Let us not kid ourselves- carbs are the preferential source for the production of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the main energy currency in our body.

Carbs (glucose) are used as a substrate for oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis, which produce ATP. This helps us to stay active throughout the day, and thus perform daily activities.

Not surprisingly, when we actively attempt to limit our carb intake by following low-carb diets, the body switches its fuel substrate from glucose to fatty acids and ketones.

The process is called ‘ketogenesis’, and while over time you may become accustomed to it, many people have a difficult time making the switch and experience the massive energy crash that ensues.

Supporting Brain Health

Carbs support brain health in a few different ways. For one, they are heavily utilized by the brain for energy, so a lack of carbs can lead to poor cognitive performance.

Moreover, some carbs are actually important components in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is known to support mood. Mood disruptions are a common occurrence when lowering carb intake too far, or for too long.

Finally, carbs help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent dips in concentration that can be attributed to low levels of blood glucose.

Enhancing Strength and Muscle Gain

Carbohydrates are an important part of an athlete achieving their goal of muscle strength and mass gain.

For one, pre-workout carbohydrate consumption ensures that there is a steady supply of glucose to fuel the muscles during workouts, preventing any dips in energy or performance.

Similarly, post-workout carbs help muscle repair and restore glycogen levels that have been depleted due to exercise.

Muscle glycogen stores increase as adaptations are developed to subsequently improve performance.

This can be especially important to athletes, bodybuilders, and those looking to improve physical fitness, especially if involved in a sport that requires intense, short-duration engagement.

Supporting Immune Health

Carbohydrates provide a key role in supporting the immune system as it fights off disease and helps protect overall health. Carbohydrates are needed to create energy for all our bodily activities, including helping us maintain an effective immune response.

Eating carbohydrates also helps stimulate the release of insulin in the body, which helps the body absorb essential vitamins and minerals into cells, leading to improved immunity.

Furthermore, complex carbs such as vegetables, beans, and quinoa provide essential nutrients that promote strong immunity by aiding white blood cell production. In short, carbohydrates play an integral role in bolstering an individual's immunity.

Carbs Promote Sleep

Carbohydrates can be your best friend when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. Eating complex carbs like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables before bed helps increase tryptophan levels in the brain.

This amino acid can lead to an increase in serotonin, which promotes relaxation and helps create a better overall mood. Carbohydrates are also beneficial because they help boost energy levels during the day, allowing you to stay alert and productive enough to be ready for deep, restful sleep come nighttime. With quality carbohydrates helping both your alertness and sleep cycles, it’s no wonder they are so beneficial!

Which Carb Type Should You Choose?

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple (or fast) sugars, are small, single sugar molecules that are quickly and easily broken down by the body. They include monosaccharides such as glucose, fructose, and galactose, and some disaccharides such as sucrose (table sugar) and lactose.

Simple carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of foods, including fruits, some vegetables, milk, and processed foods such as candy, cookies, and soft drinks.

Simple carbohydrates have a high glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a rapid and sharp increase in blood sugar levels.

This can be beneficial for athletes and active individuals who need a quick source of energy, but for most people, consuming a diet high in simple carbohydrates can lead to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, so steering clear of them is usually the best course of action in the long term.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are a type of carbohydrate that is made up of long chains of sugar molecules. They are also known as polysaccharides. They are found in foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and potatoes. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and are broken down more slowly by the body, resulting in a slower release of energy and a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates have a low glycemic index (GI) compared to simple carbohydrates which means that they are absorbed more slowly and cause a slower and smaller increase in blood sugar.

This type of carbohydrate is ideal for sustained energy over the long term and is also beneficial in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

How Many Carbs Do You Need?

The number of carbs you need on a daily basis will vary. It depends on factors such as your age, gender, activity level, and goals. It also depends on how many calories you need to consume each day.

Generally speaking, most healthy adults should aim to get about 45-65% of their total daily calories from carbohydrates. This equates to about 225-325 grams per day for someone consuming a 2000-calorie diet.

The majority of these carbs should come from slower digesting, complex sources such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Only a small amount should come from simple carbohydrates such as those found in processed foods.

Final Words

Going cold turkey on carbs is not the best way to do things. Yes, there are documented benefits of adhering to a low-carb lifestyle, but you also need to consider the goals you are trying to achieve and gauge your individual response to that approach.

That aside, if high performance is mandated in your day-to-day life, opting for healthier carbs is the best solution, and only consuming fast sources when absolutely necessary.