Ever been on a fat loss program? Heard dietitians, gym instructors, random uncles who like to weigh in on everything say “stay away from carbs”. Carbs are bad, that’s what causes you to gain weight. Don’t eat rice, cut down on roti’s, skip dinner, drink only soup for dinner, if you want “fast” weight loss, don’t eat carbs. So what is this “carbs” and why does it have such a bad reputation? Are they really that bad for the body? Why do so many people talk about going on a low carb diet, or even to an extent of going on a no- carb diet. What are the long term cons of such diet, and are there, if any pro’s? If you have been struggling with fat- loss and want to know more, keep reading.
Lets start from the basic shall we. Most food you eat can be divided into three basic macro- nutrients, namely, Carbs, Proteins and Fats. A balanced diet consists of all three of these plus water and other micronutrients like minerals and vitamins. If proteins are considered as the building block for your body, carbohydrates are the main source of energy used by the body. Carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains such as rice etc. Basically if you were eating the way our grandmom’s ate, majority of the ingredients on your plate should be carbs. If you think of your body as a car, carbs are the fuel to keep it running. Its very simple, if you take too much carbs at one time, your body stores the excess as glycogen in your liver and muscles. When needed, this is broken down and converted to glucose to be used by the body as energy. If the liver and muscle storages are full, the excess is converted to fat. This is the tricky part. So now that it is clear that carbs itself are not bad, but excess of carbs are, lets talk a little bit about how beneficial these carbs are in the body.
Carbs are considered brain food. If the glucose level in your blood drops (one of the main reasons being not enough carb intake), you will experience feeling lightheaded and disoriented. You will not be able to function well and feel lethargic with the lack of energy. So it is vital to consume enough carbs (will talk about how much is enough in a while) to keep the mind and body active. Carbs also trigger the release of serotonin, which is the feel- good hormone, naturally boosting your mood. Fun fact, this is the same hormone released when you have sex or a bar of chocolate! Research has also pointed that people on a very low carb diet are more prone to depression and anxiety related disorders.
Fibrous carbs coming in from fruits and vegetables (only plant based food has fiber, animal based foods have zero fiber) actually help you lose weight and NOT gain. Fibrous carbs gives you a sensation of feeling fuller for longer hence avoiding the urge to binge eat or snack often, while also promoting positive gut health. Increasing this fiber also helps drop the bad cholesterol and thus promotes a healthy cardiovascular system. Plus being packed with micronutrients and extremely low in calories, they make perfect in between snacks.
So how much carbs should you have? Well to understand this, we must first understand that not all carbs are created equal. Carbs can be broadly divided as having high glycemic index or low glycemic index. The Glycemic Index (GI) is how fast the glucose is released into the blood stream once the carbs are consumed. Food’s such as table sugar, white rice, potatoes etc have very high GI, thus releasing a lot of glucose into the bloodstream when consumed. A good time to have these would be post workout, when the body needs instant sugar. There is no other right time to have these. It is best to stick to low GI or complex carbs such as vegetables, whole- wheat pasta, brown rice, oats, quinoa, pulses etc. The complex carbs keep you fuller for longer and also as long as had in moderation, will not rise your blood sugar level. Please also note though that various factors such as cooking method, food preservatives, addition of fat to the food etc effects its GI rate. For example, cooking your potatoes in coconut oil (adding fat) will reduce its GI rate vs having only potatoes. Adding fiber to your meal will also bring its GI rate down. Thus, adding daal (pulses- fiber) to your rice has lower GI than having plain rice.
Carbs are easiest for the body to digest among the three macro nutrients and as long as you have the right kind of carbs at the right time, you will not gain weight. A good ratio to maintain would be 65% carbs, 20% protein and 15% calories coming in from fat in your diet to lose weight. Keeping fat ratio low is the key when losing weight.
Do not aim to cut down carbs but to eat the right food. As a general key, avoid thing which come in packets such as cookies, chips etc. Eating plant based whole foods is better for