The Truth about Carbohydrates

By Deb Withington

I have heard many debates over what macro nutrients/foods should be included in a “weight conscious” meal plan. Should carbs be included, reduced or excluded completely? The answer to this question is dependent on whom you ask but science supports the fact that carbohydrates are good for you and are a necessary part of a balanced diet. According to the guidelines published by the American government, carbohydrates should make up between 10-30% of your daily calorie intake and as much as 45-60% for athletes.

Carbohydrates provide energy to both our muscles and our brain. In fact, carbohydrates are so important to cognitive brain function that “The National Academy of Sciences” recommends eating 520 calories per day to maintain proper brain function.

Okay, but what happens to people when they eliminate or severely restrict carbohydrates from their diet? When carbohydrates are restricted, the body is forced to use fat and protein as the energy source. Fats and proteins are inefficient in generating energy.

– Fat does not completely digest when used for fuel and create by-products called Ketones; which are mildly acidic. Over time this acidity can be harmful to the body by causing damage to the liver, kidneys and brain.

– Protein, when used as a fuel source, depletes the body’s ability to build and restore muscle. In extreme cases of low protein accompanied by low carb consumption, the body will eat away at muscle to get the proper amount of protein it needs to function.

Got it, carbohydrates are important but are there “good” and “bad” carbohydrates? Well aside from a few exceptions, not really. There are simple and complex carbohydrates…not “good” or “bad”. Each type has a special purpose in providing the body with the proper energy needs.

-Simple carbohydrates raise blood sugar right away and trigger insulin release. Simple carbohydrates are sometimes labeled as bad because of their immediate impact on the blood stream but this can be extremely important to an endurance athlete that needs quick energy during a marathon or a triathlon event.

-Complex carbohydrates release the sugar more slowly usually due to their high fiber content. Complex carbohydrates are usually preferred because they provide a more steady release of glucose.

In summary, everyone needs carbohydrates for their body to function properly. The type and the percentages will be based on your body needs and activity level.

Note: Simple carbohydrates not “good” to eat are the obvious; candy, cookies, sugary beverages, etc…