Are all carbs bad?
Carbohydrates or carbs are a primary source of fuel and energy for the body, but they often receive the short end of the stick when it comes to good health, diets, and clean eating. In this article, we'll understand why carbs are important for us; how we can incorporate them into our diets; and when do they end up becoming harmful for us.
The role carbs play:
● Energy– Carbs help maintain the energy levels in our body and eating too few of these can cause tiredness and mental fatigue. Carbs also provide energy to every single organ of the body for its proper functioning.
● Muscle strength – They are important for fueling our muscles. Carbs are converted to glycogen, which is further stored in the muscles to power a host of physical activities later on for the body. Good carbs that are low in fats are essential for people who regularly work out.
● Moderating moods – Lack of carbohydrates in our diet can make us feel groggy and irritated. This is because carbs play a crucial role in regulating our moods. Carbohydrates aid in the production of serotonin, a feel-good hormone, which acts as a natural tranquilliser. However, the kind of carbs we consume matters too. While refined carbs can only provide us with a short-term fix and temporarily make us feel good; the good kind of carbs, i.e. complex carbs can keep our moods stable for much longer.
● Brain health, thinking, cognitive functions – Carbs provides energy to the brain and our brain uses the energy from the breakdown of carbs. This is why when people go on a low-carb diet, they sometimes become irritable, frustrated, depressed, and even angry. Their moods completely change since their brain isn’t getting the adequate amount of energy that it needs from the carbs.
● Weight loss – Healthy carbs, which are your complex and dietary carbs, will consume more time to get broken down for one's blood sugar levels as compared to simple carbs. This implies that your body is going to consume more energy to burn these carbs, which results in weight loss, and not weight gain.
This is why low-carb or zero-carb diets can be detrimental to the body due to their varied roles in our body.
Is the fear around carbs even valid?
A healthy and efficient body can break down carbs, so we shouldn't fear them or term them as, 'fattening'. Rice isn't fattening; similarly, potatoes aren't fattening either. It could, however, be your lifestyle that's making you gain weight and be sick. Blaming food for what's caused by a faulty lifestyle isn't the right thing to do.
Ever wondered about what labourers and farmers, who do intense physical work, eat? Their staple diet comprises rice, and because of the level of their physical activity, they utilise these carbs super efficiently without gaining an ounce of fat. They are well-ripped, fit and happy individuals. So, where does the problem lie? Rice (carbs) or activity levels and lifestyle?
So, where do we go wrong with carbs?
● Eating too fast and not chewing enough
● Overeating, especially carbs – eating heaps of rice, unbalanced meals, carb-heavy meals
● Eating in a state of stress
● Eating an excess of carbs at the wrong time – late-night meals are bad for the body since the carbs consumed at this time are more likely to be stored as fat and make the body gain weight than using these carbs as energy. The best time to eat carbs is in your breakfast and lunch because according to the circadian rhythm, our body has the highest metabolic activity to break down, digest and utilize the carbs during the daytime, but it isn't so during nighttime. One can also add carbs around the time of their workouts since this also gives the body a chance to assimilate them well, so well-planned post- and pre-workout meals with carbs in them is good for the body.
● Choosing the wrong kinds of carbs refined carbs, junk and processed foods that do not provide any nutrition to the body aren’t suggested. There is a reason for terming these foods as 'empty calories'. They provide zero nutrition; and therefore, our body is left craving more and more food because of being nutritionally deprived. You should choose healthier carbs like all vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, seeds, whole grains, etc.
● Sedentary lifestyle – A sedentary lifestyle is more to be blamed for gaining weight and for falling sick than anything else. A proportionate amount of food with a good amount of physical activity is needed by your body to continue to stay in a healthy state. Additionally, make small changes in your routine life like taking the stairs instead of the elevator; get up and walk around every hour, etc. to add that extra physical activity to your days.
● B-vitamin deficiency – The biggest issue that we are dealing with right now is most people have a deficiency of vitamin B. And how exactly is this the biggest issue? It is because B vitamins help carbs get metabolized into energy for the body. We all eat carbs but we don’t give our bodies the right kind or amount of vitamins, which in turn, results in several deficiencies. We are also naturally low in B vitamins, so we cannot metabolize the carbs in the right way and then blaming carbs here in such a case isn’t right. Going for better diet plans that include a rich portion of vitamins or going for supplements (if need be) is advised.
● Other macronutrient deficiencies – Other deficiencies of minerals like magnesium and chromium also impact how carbs are metabolized in your body.
● Going by fixed and rigid food plans – Diets which demand a certain fixed amount of carbs every day are not ideal and this isn’t how it works. Our bodies are quite dynamic and so are their needs. If a person has had a sedentary day, then they won’t need too many carbs that day. Similarly, more carbs could be needed on those days, which are physically more stressful. So, listening to your body and giving it what it needs is the key here. This is also why diet plans and calorie counting do not always work unless done in a personalized manner
One should go 'smart carb' and not 'NO carb' when trying to balance the intake of carbs. One should also personalize this diet according to their body mass index, weight, height, daily activity level, etc. to get the maximum results. A man living in an urban setup with a sedentary lifestyle might not require as many carbs as, let's say, a farmer or labourer who engages in a lot of physical activity in a day.
Smart carbs that you must include in your diet:
There are good carbs and bad carbs. Bad carbs are all of the processed and junk foods including white flour and white sugar. Good carbs are good grains like millets, brown/white/red rice, traditional grains like jowar, bajra, amaranth, etc. You can include Poha also in your diet for good crabs. If you don't have a gluten allergy, then wheat rotis and buckwheat are also good sources of good carbs for you. All of these are complex carbs. Vegetables are also a source of good carbs in the body, including those like peas, potatoes and carrots that most people believe are fattening. Nothing that nature provides us can make us sick if used wisely. Good grains along with the rest of the food items listed here help with weight loss, too.
Foods rich in resistant starch (RS) are wonderful for you too. The beauty of RS is that these foods resist digestion in the small intestine, and therefore do not spike up your sugar levels in the body. And when these foods travel to the large intestine, they convert into SCFA and butyric acid, which are extremely beneficial to boost digestive health. For example, cooked and cooled rice and potatoes, raw bananas are rich in resistant starch. You can also make fun recipes like a cold potato salad for smart carbs to be included in your meals.
So, it's a good idea to develop a habit of consuming the right kind of carbohydrates at the right time. Anything in excess is going to be bad for you and your health even if it's a healthy food that you are consuming in excess. Understanding your body to know which macronutrients are required in which amount is crucial for one to lead a healthier, happier life.
Changing our mindset about carbs is also just as crucial since we cannot function well after deleting one entire and very important food group, i.e. carbohydrates. It's beneficial to get off a low-carb or a no-carb diet and to switch to a smart carb diet since that has long-term benefits to offer to the body.
The views and opinions expressed, and assumptions & analysis presented in this content piece are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.