“If someone tells you not to eat carbs, it means they don’t like you” our public health dietetics professor lectured to us at 8 am on a rainy morning. I chuckled, recognizing how deeply accurate he was. Why do people view carbs as the devil? At what point in time did the media decide to inform us that fruit and sweet potatoes will make us fat and develop diabetes? This is in fact not the role of carbs. Carbs are great! They taste amazing, fuel our brain, give us energy and even help us lose weight! Wait what? I thought carbs make you fat? No honey, fat makes you fat… hence it’s name. Our bodies are meant to run off of carbohydrates.
So what exactly is a carb anyways? Carbohydrates are mainly made up of sugars: monosaccharides such as glucose, fructose, and galactose, and disaccharides such as sucrose, fructose, and galactose. Other forms of carbohydrates are oligosaccharides and polysaccharides which derive mostly from starchy foods and vegetables. The body uses carbohydrates in the form of glucose, and stores it in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is stored in muscle cells, and contrary to popular belief glycogen does not get converted to fat but rather stays in the muscle cells so that it is readily available to be used as energy. Fat however is stored as fat (surprised?). Okay, now that we’ve got some basic biochemistry down, let’s talk about why you want to be eating carbs.
Important functions in the body
Carbohydrates supply energy to all the cells in your body. It is especially important to red blood cells because they can only get their energy from glucose. The role of red blood cells is to carry fresh oxygen to all parts of the body (so you see how this might be a problem if you aren’t consuming enough carbs). The brain is similar in this matter. The brain ONLY uses glucose for energy to carry out it’s functions. When individuals start a ketogenic diet (a high fat/protein, low carb diet), their body goes into a state of emergency and their brain isn’t getting the energy it needs. People on this diet often report feeling “foggy brained” or have problems concentrating.
How carbohydrates aid in weight loss
One gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories. One gram of fat is 9 calories. That means you can eat more than twice as many carbohydrates for the same amount of calories. Now when I say carbohydrates I am not referring to cakes and cookies. Desserts similar to these tend to be higher in fat than in carbohydrates. The types of foods I am referring to are potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, oats, quinoa, pasta, fruits, veggies, etc. Starchy whole foods essentially. These foods contain high amounts of fiber. Fiber is essential for weight loss as it regulates your digestion, increases metabolism, and helps you to feel full. Fiber can only be consumed from plant foods. Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, contain no fiber and large amounts of saturated and trans fat (remember what I just said about calories per gram). Most of us think that when carbs get stored in the body they get stored as fat. This, thankfully, is not the case. Carbs are constantly being burned for fuel and are stored as glycogen in the muscle cells and liver. Not as fat. Fat (shocker) is stored as fat. There are many studies showing that high carb low fat diets lead to weight loss, decreased cholesterol and blood pressure, promote longevity, and are much more sustainable than keto diets.
There is a reason we love pasta, potatoes, and fruit so much.. It’s because our bodies physically need these to function properly! Carbohydrates give us energy during the day, help our brain to function efficiently, and provide lots of fiber to aid in digestion. So next time you’re at your favorite Italian restaurant go for the pasta, not the steak!