First lets re-define a "Calorie": A calorie is one unit of energy. Everything we eat has energy contained in it, and a calorie is one unit of that energy. The reason we count calories is so that we know how many units of energy not only that we NEED, but that we eat and also that we burn. The energy we're counting is the energy in the carbohydrates, proteins and fats etc... that eating. (For a more detailed definition, you can check out my other post on Calories).
So, the body needs energy. Carbs are an ideal source of energy for the body. This is because they can be converted more readily into glucose (the form of sugar that's transported and used by the body) than proteins or fats can.
Even so, a diet too high in carbs can upset the balance of your body's blood sugar level, resulting in fluctuations in energy and mood which leave you feeling irritated and tired.
It is better to balance your intake of carbohydrates with protein, a little fat and fiber.
There are two types of carbohydrate: complex and simple.
Complex carbs are often referred to as starch or starchy foods. They are found both in natural foods and also refined in processed foods.
Complex carbs as natural starch come in the form of:
- brown rice
- root vegetables
- sweet corn
- whole grain cereals
- whole grain breads
- whole grain cereals
- whole grain flour
- whole grain pasta
- biscuits, pastries and cakes
- sugary processed breakfast cereals
- white bread
- white flour
- white pasta
- white rice
Refined sugars are found in:
- biscuits, cakes and pastries
- honey and jams
- brown and white cane sugar
- prepared foods and sauces
- soft drinks
- sweets and snack bars.
Alright, so let's review. Carbs ARE good, but only COMPLEX carbs. Simple carbs burn fast and are what are basically called "empty calories". An empty calorie is defined as a source that has little to no nutritional value. Cake has no nutritional value.
Let's define, Glucose and why it is important. Glucose is a simple sugar that provides the body with its primary source of energy. This type of sugar comes from digesting carbs into a chemical that the body can easily convert to energy. When glucose levels in the bloodstream aren't properly regulated, a person can develop a serious condition, such as diabetes.
From Carbohydrates:People get most of their glucose from digesting the sugar and starch in carbohydrates. The body's digestive system, using bile and enzymes, breaks down the starch and sugar in these foods into glucose. This functional form of energy then gets absorbed through the small intestine into the bloodstream. It is then carried throughout the body, providing energy for the person to perform all types of activities, such as simple movements, demanding physical exercises or even thinking.
Glycemic Index:Foods can be rated according to the index, which indicates how quickly the carbohydrates are broken down by the body and the glucose is released into the bloodstream. White bread and most breakfast cereals have a high glycemic index, which means that the carbohydrates are broken down and the body's blood-sugar levels raised more quickly. Most fruits, vegetables and nuts have low glycemic indexes. Whole-wheat products and some types of potatoes have glycemic indexes in the middle.
So let's break that down. Starchy foods are NOT bad. Complex carbohydrates are food for you. They are an essential part of your diet and provide needed energy. HOWEVER, refined starches will raise your glucose level. Your glucose is the sugar in your blood. When you have TOO MUCH SUGAR in your blood, your body secretes a chemical called insulin to counter the sugar. Having too much sugar in your diet CAN cause a number of life altering, and threatening health problems. The blood cells in your body are made up a complex system. When you have fed your body sugar, the body naturally releases insulin. The insulin then takes the sugar in your blood and feeds it to your cells. One of the most vital parts of your cells is called the "mitochondria". There is a large number of mitochondria found in your cells. The mitochondria is responsible for converting sugar to energy.
Here's the problem: When there is too much sugar, the body stops NEEDING to be fed, and that is when the body starts to STORE the sugar for use later. The way our body stores our excess "energy" is in this fabulous thing called FAT!!
Fat is NOT bad, it's helpful. But, here's the thing about fat ... even too much of a good thing can be bad.
Here's where the math comes into play. Say an adult consumes 1800 calories a day and burns 1000. 800 calories were STORED. Say an adult consumes 1800 calories and burns 2500 through exercise. They're 700 calories short on what their body needs so one of two things will happen: 1) The body will go to the stores and say, oh we're good, we've got some to spare and uses stored energy. 2) The body starves and we find ourselves sluggish and tired because we haven't fed it enough to run.
Here's what I always did: I wouldn't eat. I'd eat (and note I said "eat") about 700 - 1000 calories a day. I'd drink a thousand or so more. My drink, Dr. Pepper, is a simple sugar so it would go IMMEDIATELY into my blood stream and raise up my glucose, my body would release insulin, my cells would get fed and report back as full and the rest off to the fat factory that is securely located anywhere between my rib cage and my knees. So with ONE drink, ONE 44oz Dr. Pepper, I'd provide my body with enough sugar to convert to the amount of energy I would need to counter whatever energy I'd need through whatever exercise I'd do throughout the day. Anything I ate or drank BEYOND that ONE consumption was EXTRA and got stored!!
Note: I only ever ATE 700 - 1000 calories. I do not eat. I do not like food. Food is a necessary evil in my life. Well, with some exceptions, there is some food I'd eat until I threw up. But in general, I could completely do without eating. So, a lot of the time, I DID.
When I wasn't eating, and was only consuming a Dr. Pepper I would provide my body with just enough energy to run, but nothing more. So when I would exercise, or go for a walk, or go on a long shopping trip that involved a lot of walking, made love to my husband, or anything that burned calories beyond those I would typically burn just by the process of breathing and being alive my body would panic because I hadn't fed it. Of course I had plenty on reserve and that's fantastic. However, the next time I ate the body said "OH! Energy, we better hang on to a lot of this because we're not sure when the next time is we're going to get fed!" and it would store, store, store. That is why refined sugars are considered "empty calories" they run the number up but not for anything.
If you want to consume 2500 calories, or 3000 calories a day, that's fine, as long as you plan on USING THEM at the same time. Otherwise, your body is going to store them.
"Skinny" women, and by skinny I am NOT referring to the runway models who's elbows jut out of their skin and their collar bones look like outside accessories, DO HAVE FAT!! Every body has fat stores, they're necessary and healthy. The vast difference between these HEALTHY men and women (I do not like the word skinny) is that they are consuming what their body needs and nothing more. If they work out for 2 hours a day and burn that many calories, they put that much back into their body in protein shakes, fruits veggies, small snacks of nuts. Sometimes, you'll even find one of these healthy people who indulges on CHOCOLATE, cake, ice cream, SODA!!! *GASP* How is that possible?! How could they possibly enjoy life and eat cake?!! It's because they are burning equal to what they are eating.
Chocolate cake is not our enemy; laziness is.
So what have we learned? 1+1=2-1=1. If you make those numbers larger:
700 calories in healthy proteins, starches, fruits veggies
+800 calories in Soda, cake, sugar, white bread, pasta
1500 calories consumed today
-500 calories burned because I breathe and nothing more.
1000 EXTRA calories to store for later in my fat bank.
This is why MATH is important for our health (and it's the ONLY reason).
So in summary: Carbs are good, but only CERTAIN types of carbs are good. If you're going to consume carbohydrates, your best bet is to stick with healthy carbs, the COMPLEX carbs. Try to stay away from the simple carbs, refined sugars, pastas, etc... that raise up your number but give you nothing in return. Simple carbohydrates do not require the body to work on it, they do not require the body to do anything to process them.