In this section I will cover everything you need to know aboutcarbohydrates. What they are, what they do, and why they are the most preferred and efficient energy source for your body.
I will also explain why the human body can’t function properly without carbs, and why low carb dieting should be used only as a temporary “advanced” nutrition strategy!
The question what are carbs? is one of the most frequently asked questions that I get. Since there is so much confusion surrounding this nutrient, I will do my best to explain why consuming moderate amounts of foods that contain high quality, natural carbs is one of the most important steps toward creating permanent fat loss!
Once you understand how they work in your body, and how to choose the most nutritious and healthy carbs on a daily basis, you will also realize that you can consume plenty of carbohydrates, while at the same time maintaining good health, high energy levels, and easily controlling your weight!
Carbs are not your enemy, in fact the opposite is true, by consuming the majority of your daily calories (50%-60%) from the right carbohydrate sources, you will be able to create a lean, healthy body and eventually reach your ideal weight.
CARBS ARE THE MOST PREFERRED ENERGY SOURCE
Carbohydrate (glucose) is the easiest source of fuel for your body to use, and this is the main reason why it is preferred.
The chemical structure of carbohydrates (carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) allows your organism to easily convert this macronutrient into glucose.
Glucose is not only the most preferred and efficient energy source for your organism, it is also the main source of energy for the brain and the nervous system.
A constant supply of glucose is necessary for the brain and nerve tissue to function properly.
Eating an abundance of carbohydrates is essential because it provides a steady and readily available supply of energy to your body, and allows it to function properly.
Once the carbohydrates are converted into glucose they can be shuttled off to your cells to be used as an energy source.
Even though fat is also used by your body as fuel, it is only a more concentrated energy source, it is not preferred or not as efficient as glucose.
PERMANENT FAT LOSS CAN ONLY BE CREATED SLOWLY
In our bodies, fat is the primary form in which we store excess long-term energy. It is not readily available as an energy source like carbohydrates, and is meant to be used to sustain us in times of starvation, whether it is self-imposed or otherwise.
This is one of the main reasons why it is so difficult to lose body fat, especially when your drastically lower your daily calorie intake.
As soon as your body senses a sharp drop in your daily calorie intake, instead of burning unwanted body fat, as most people would like, it triggers the starvation response and starts to conserve its energy.
Converting your muscle to glucose and burning it as an energy source, is one of the ways your organism lowers its calorie burning ability, getting ready for starvation.
Your body can’t tell the difference between low calorie dieting and the beginning of starvation. As soon as your daily calorie intake drops below a certain point, your body will adjust to this new calorie intake by burning your muscle.
The other reason why it is difficult to lose unwanted body fat, is that our organism views body fat as a source of protection, and because of this, it is reluctant to give it up easily.
Throughout our bodies, fat is a component of cell membranes, it serves as a precursor to a variety of hormone-like substances, acts as an insulator against heat loss, and protects vital organs such as the kidneys and heart.
So if your goal is permanent fat loss, you must move toward this objective very slowly. The ultimate long term fat loss strategy is losing one to two pounds of body fat per week.
If you attempt to lose much more, your body will resist and fight you the whole time. In the end your body will always win by triggering its defense mechanisms and forcing you to eat what it needs to function properly!
AVOID LOW CARB, HIGH PROTEIN APPROACHES
When there isn’t enough readily available glucose from the breakdown of carbohydrates, the body first turns to stored carbohydrate reserves (glycogen). If there is still no new intake of carbs, and the reserves are depleted, it will be forced to turn to alternative sources (fat and protein) for energy.
It is not a good idea to force your body to go into these states by drastically lowering your carbohydrate intake over long periods of time. The idea of forcing your body to burn fat for fuel by consuming high amounts of protein and low amounts of carbs will backfire, and most of the time will produce the opposite results than the dieter actually expects!
In extreme cases, such as when a person is on a zero-carb, or a very-low carb diet, the body will break down your muscle and convert it into glucose to use it as an energy source. It will also do this when you are following alow calorie diet, and the starvation response is triggered.
Since your muscle is a metabolically active tissue, your body needs to expand energy (calories) in order to maintain it, and by burning up your muscle as an energy source and lowering your metabolism, you body is simply conserving its energy to allow you to survive longer.
Whenever you try to manipulate your body to burn fat as the main energy source, by drastically lowering your carbohydrate intake, it is only a matter of time until your organism will trigger its defense mechanisms and you will be forced to go off your diet.
As soon as you start consuming normal amounts of carbohydrates, after going off your diet, you will regain all the weight back, and will keep gaining weight, because your body will not burn carbohydrates as efficiently as it did before you started using the low carb diet approach.
Consuming moderate amounts of carbohydrates, protein and dietary fat, on a regular basis is the only way to create permanent fat loss. Your major objective is to choose the best sources of carbohydrates, and to make sure that this macronutrient is present in every meal during the day.
SOURCES OF CARBOHYDRATES
All fruits, vegetables and dairy products contain carbohydrate. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants store carbs as their main energy source. When we eat plant-based foods, we ingest this stored energy and put it to use within our bodies.
The food that contains carbs, like grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products are all different from each other. But the one thing they have in common, is substantial doses of healthy carbs that we humans simply can’t live without.
Carbohydrates are made up of a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The word carbohydrate is formed from the two words, carbo meaning carbon and hydrate meaning water, which is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.
All carbs have these three basic component parts. It is how they are put together that makes each one unique. Carbohydrates are categorized as either simple or complex.
The simple carbohydrates are made up of a single unit of various arrangements of the three elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen). Each unit has the same number of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms; it is the different arrangements that account for their distinct properties, such as sweetness and solubility.
Complex carbs are made up of different arrangements of these single units that are linked together in various patterns that can be from two to tens of thousands of units long. The more units linked, the more complex the carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are sugars. Complex carbohydrates are starches, fiber, glycogen, and dextrin.
SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES: MONOSACCHARIDES AND DISACCHARIDES
There are two simple carbs, monosaccharides and disaccharides. Each one is easily broken down by our organism to create the glucose the body uses for energy. A monosaccharide is composed of a single sugar molecule. A disaccharide is composed of two monosaccharides.
The most common monosaccharides are glucose (blood sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). Glucose is found naturally in food or can be produced in the body through the breakdown of complex carbohydrates.
Glucose is often called blood sugar because it is the main form of carbohydrate that travels through the bloodstream to provide energy to the body’s cells.
Fructose is the type of simple carb found in fruit. Fructose, also known as fruit sugar, is found naturally in many different fruits as well as honey.
Disaccharides are made of two monosaccharides (single sugar units) that are linked together. The different types of disaccharides are created through various combinations of monosaccharides.
The most common dissaccharides are glucose plus fructose = sucrose (table sugar), glucose plus galactose = lactose (dairy sugar) and glucose plus glucose = maltose (malt sugar).
CONSUME SIMPLE CARBS IN MODERATION
Simple carbs, especially when consumed by themselves, are digested very quickly by your body, and this causes a rapid rise in blood sugar!
Once this happens your organism releases large amounts of insulin to clear all the excess blood sugar (glucose) out of your bloodstream.
This is always followed by a feeling of fatigue, weakness, mood swings, and also causes an increase in appetite, hunger and food cravings.
Insulin is an anabolic hormone that gets amino acids into the muscles for growth and also gets carbohydrates into your cells where they are used for energy.
The problem is created when there is too much insulin released into your bloodstream from eating too many simple and refined carbs.
Once the insulin clears out all of the excess glucose from your bloodstream, you feel a sharp drop in your energy, and then a craving to eat some more of these simple carbohydrates.
This is caused by a rapid drop in glucose in your bloodstream. When your body senses this sharp drop in blood sugar, it starts to send signals for you to eat more carbohydrates.
But the biggest problem is what actually happens with the excess glucose that is cleared out of your bloodstream. Insulin drives it into the fat cells, and the glucose becomes glycerol, the backbone of the triglyceride (fat) molecule.
This means that over-consuming simple carbs, makes you gain body fat. Processed and refined carbs like white sugar and white flower, are the worst kind, since they are very calorie dense.
Gaining body fat is very easy when you consume too many processed and refined carbs, since there is a lot of calories packed in a small serving.
From my experience, foods made from white flour and white sugar are the major cause of weight gain. I recommend to avoid them as much as possible, if you want to be lean!
CONSUME MODERATE AMOUNTS OF ALL MACRONUTRIENTS
The only way to stop this process, is to lower your consumption of simple carbs, and to start eating moderate high quality complex carbohydrates together with lean protein, and good fat.
My advice is to stay away from eating processed and refined simple carbs. They cause devastation to your organism, and eventually may even cause serious health problems.
Eating complex high quality carbohydrates by themselves, is not an option either, since the whole process is more or less the same, it is simply not as pronounced.
Protein and dietary fat, when eaten with complex carbohydrates, is what slows down the digestion, and causes a steady release of insulin into your blood stream. Plus all of the nutrients are evenly distributed in your body, allowing it to function properly.
This way of eating provides the ultimate combination of nutrients to fuel all of the activities that are necessary for you to create a lean body, filled with healthy and vitality!
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES: POLYSACCHARIDES
Complex carbs (polysaccharides) are assembled from single sugar units, (monosaccharides) including glucose, fructose, and galactose, or pairs of single sugars, (disaccharides) including sucrose, lactose and maltose, and are linked together.
Polysaccharides include starch, fiber, glycogen and dextrin. Although complex carbs are built from many single sugar units, they do not taste sweet. Joining these sugar units together creates the new, complex carbs (starch, fiber/cellulose, glycogen).
Starch is found in plants, and is their storage form of carbohydrate, fiber/cellulose provides the structure for all plants, and glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in humans and animals. The fourth type of polysaccharide, dextrin, is produced as a result of breaking down long chains of starch into shorter chains during digestion.
All these polysaccharides (complex carbs) are more stable and less soluble than the simple carbs, but the body can still break them down quite easily into simple sugars and then into glucose, which it directly uses for energy.
THE MAJORITY OF YOUR CARB CALORIES SHOULD COME FROM CONSUMING COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
Some examples of the high calorie density, starchy carbs, are found in potatoes, cereals, grains, bread, pasta, rice, oats, wheat and beans.
Your body is able to completely absorb and digest all the caloric energy in starches, therefore the calorie density of starch is higher than fiber.
The second group, low calorie density, fibrous carbs, are the green vegetables. The dietary fiber is not digested, and passes through your digestive tract, without all the calorie energy being absorbed.
Dietary fiber is considered an internal cleanser, because it helps promote healthy digestion and speeds up the transit time of food through the digestive tract. This is especially important when you are consuming moderate amounts of protein during your weight loss program.
Fibrous carbs (green vegetables) play an important part in a weight loss program, because they have a very low calorie density, compared to the starchy carbs, that have a high calorie density. This is one of the reasons why many fat loss programs suggest to eat a lot of vegetables.
Complex carbs, are the choice when you are on a weight loss program and 80% or more of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbs until you create some major results in your fat loss program.
Complex carbs provide sustained energy levels without the highs and lows in blood sugar produced by eating simple carbs. The fiber contained in the complex carbs also slows down digestion and helps to stabilize insulin release into your bloodstream.
AVOID PROCESSED/REFINED CARBS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Knowing the difference between natural and refined carbs is probably the most important distinction that you can make when it comes to effective, long term weight loss.
A natural carbohydrate is something that comes from a tree, plant or out of the ground, just the way it is found in nature.
Processed/refined carbs are complex carbohydrates that have gone through a production process where their particles have been refined. The grains that are processed and refined this way are digested by your body in the same way as simple carbohydrates.
This is the major reason that all food that is made from white flour and white sugar are not recommended when you are following a weight loss program. This includes all pastas, breads, pretzels, crackers, bagels and other foods that have white flour as the major ingredient.
Without a doubt, consuming too many calories from refined carbohydrates, like white flour and white sugar is one the major reasons most people have problems with unwanted body fat!
Whole grain breads and pastas are okay for weight loss; just make sure to watch those calories, since they have a very high calorie density!
When you consume foods made from white sugar and white flour there is a lot of calories in small serving. Most people simply consume too many calories when eating these foods, and the excess calories are converted into unwanted body fat.
A FEW OTHER DISTINCTION ABOUT CONSUMING CARBS
In the nutrient ratio section I explained that the 50-30-20 nutrient ratio is the best place to start your weight loss program.
This means, that 50% of your daily calorie intake should come from eating natural carbs, 30% from lean protein and 20% from good dietary fat.!
Restricting carbs will always lower your energy levels, and you will not have the high energy levels that are necessary to burn unwanted body fat using exercise.
In the article carb counting I provide a link to a carb counter and explain why low carb dieting is really difficult. And in the article carb counts you will find information how to calculate your daily calorie intake and then count how many carbohydrate grams you should consume on a daily basis.
Consuming low calorie vegetables can also be an effective approach when it is used effectively. These foods have a low calorie density and by consuming them at the right time, you can produce impressive weight loss results.
Make sure to always count the carb calories that come from your beverages and alcohol drinks, since this is one of the most overlooked mistakes made by many people trying to lose weight.
When you consume the right amount of carbs throughout the day, you will not only feel great, but you will have the energy to do all the cardio and weight training, that will get you leaner, than you ever thought was possible!
MAIN FUEL SOURCE FOR HIGH INTENSITY EXERCISE
When you reduce your carb calories, your body will start to use up its glycogen stores. Low glycogen forces your body to switch to using more body fat for energy and begin converting amino acids from proteins to fuel.
Using fats and amino acids this way is inefficient, it pulls the amino acids away from the proteins. This has additional negative effects and potentially weakens your immune defenses.
The amino acids and minerals found in protein are necessary in muscular development. Large amounts of protein are not necessary, this is why I recommend that only 30% of your daily calories come from protein.
Dietary fat has a very high calorie density and is easily converted to body fat, which can easily make you gain weight. This is definitely what you want to avoid when you are in the weight loss phase of your program. These are the reasons why I recommend that you consume only 20% of your calories from dietary fat.
To help your body to function properly consuming 50% of your daily calories from natural carbs is the ultimate nutrition approach. All carbs are turned into glucose by your body and end up as blood sugar in your bloodstream. The most important thing is to know which ones will help you in losing weight and which ones will hold you back.
IN THE WEIGHT LOSS PHASE CONSUME MOSTLY COMPLEX CARBS
Fruit and dairy products are actually *healthy* food, but when you are on a weight loss diet, you should eat them in moderation. The reason is simple, fruit and dairy products contain a lot of simple sugars, and this is what you want to avoid when you are on a weight loss program.
Lactose intolerance is another thing that must be considered when consuming dairy products. Some people can’t digest this simple sugar very well, and should avoid dairy products all together.
If you can tolerate lactose, stick to eating non-fat and 1% dairy products while you are in the weight loss phase of your program. This way you will not go over your daily calorie limit, or consume too much dietary fat.
The best way to approach weight loss, is to eat mostly complex carbs (80%), and eat simple natural carbs in moderation.
Once you get some good results from your program you can start consuming more fruit and low or non-fat dairy products, if you enjoy eating these foods!
DAILY CARB *NUTRIENT RATIO* INTAKE CHART
This chart below shows the carb nutrient ratios, and shows what is considered very low to very high, as far as you daily calorie intake from this nutrient.
As you will see, all of our recommendations with carbs, protein and fats are in the moderate percentages, because this is always the best place for everyone to start.
Once you have tracked your results for a few months, your weekly weight loss chart will show which way you should go and what nutrient ratios to raise or lower!
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