Posted on May 17 2021
We all have heard of carbohydrates as 'the bad food' for health and weight loss. You open Instagram and every other fitness expert is bragging about a low- carb diet.
However, numerous researches in this regard have repeatedly quashed their claims due lack of scientific data. In fact, the very opposite is true. A balanced diet should always include all the three major food groups, i.e., carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates accounting for over 50% of the total calories consumed per day.
If we compare the diet's of the longest living populations across the world, the people living in the 'blue zones', it would look something like this:
People in the Blue zones not only live over a 100 years, but are not affected by metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and obesity. Surely, they must be doing something right?
Before we get into the facts of why and how carbohydrates are helpful for our health and weight loss, let's first understand what carbohydrates are.
What are carbohydrates?
In nutrition, 'carbs' or carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients along with proteins and fats. Carbs are termed as 'essential nutrients', meaning, the body will not function without them. They are also termed as the 'energy yielding nutrients'.
There are three major types of carbohydrates, i.e., starches, fiber, and sugars. These are vital food nutrients that your body turns into glucose to give you the energy to function.
Starches are generally referred to as complex carbohydrates. They exist in fruits, whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.
Sugars are, on the other hand, referred to as simple carbohydrates. They exist naturally in vegetables, fruits, honey, and milk. Additionally, added sugars exist in processed foods, sweets, sugary drinks, and syrups.
Dietary carbohydrates also contain some amount of fiber. Although humans cannot digest fiber, the bacteria in the digestive system can use some of them.
Fiber is an exception, it does not technically provide much calories, but is vital for your overall health. It doesn't immediately offer energy, but it does feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system that can use the fiber to produce short chain fatty acids, which some of our cells can use as energy.
The primary function of carbs in our diet is to provide fuel for our bodies. Most of the carbohydrates get broken down or transformed into glucose, which the body uses as energy. If there is excess left, it is then converted into fat, which is stored energy, for later use. Excess proteins and excess fats are also converted and stored as body fat.
The chemical structure of any carb and how quickly the body absorbs it determines whether the food taken is complex or simple carbohydrate.
The complex carbohydrates will cause fewer fluctuations in blood sugar. Additionally, these carbs include vitamins, minerals, and fiber that the body needs for efficient functioning.
They are sometimes also referred to as 'whole' or 'unrefined' carbs. In contrast, the refined carbs are processed form, and hence the natural fiber is either removed or modified. The below picture might make this clear:
Whole carbs exist in vegetables, quinoa, legumes, whole grains, barley, and potatoes. At the same time, refined carbs exist in white bread, pastries, sugar-sweetened beverages, and other food products made of white flour.
Refined carbohydrates tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to a subsequent crash that can trigger hunger and then lead to food cravings. There are also added sugars, which one should limit as they are associated with chronic diseases.
Low Carbohydrate Diet
However, one should not demonize all foods containing carbohydrates because of the adverse health effects of processed simple items.
There is sufficient scientific evidence supporting that consumption of whole grains VS refined grains can reduce the risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Whole grains are also excellent dietary sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and many beneficial plant enzymes.
Higher Carb Diet, Higher Risk! Low Carb Diet, Lower Risk?- NOT
With the prevalence of obesity reaching epidemic proportions, the World Health Organization states that over 1.9 billion adults globally suffer from excess body weight.
Therefore, practical and sustainable weight loss strategies are essential backed by proper and thorough research.
As we have come across decades of variations in diet types, the low-carb ones have mainly been around for a long time.
Different types of low- carb diet include the highly famous Atkins diet, the Zone diet, the South Beach Diet, and the Earth diet.
Read the below to know more:
Regardless of the claims made by these diets, there is rarely any scientific evidence to support that low-carb diets are notably better than other diets in promoting long-term weight loss.
A survey in The Nutritional Journal concluded that all diets, irrespective of carbohydrate, fat, and good protein content, that incorporated on an exercise regimen, significantly decrease weight and waist circumference in obese women.
On the other hand, according to a new study published in the year 2018 in nutrients, diets high in carbohydrates help reduce body weight, body fat and improve insulin function in overweight individuals.
In the randomized clinical trial conducted for 16 weeks, researchers of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine studied participants on a high- carb plant- based diet VS a control group. The control group was urged to continue their ongoing diet. Here were the staggering results:
The high- carb group not only lost more overall weight, but also fat mass. There was no muscle loss and they got healthier.
Note here, there was no restrictions on calories in either groups. The control group continued diets, which were higher in fats and proteins. Also, neither group altered their exercise routines.
It is worthy of noting here that the carbohydrate sources participants were asked to eat in the above diet were mostly starches and fiber. Processed sugar is not healthy for the body in any form.
So yes, sugary, deep fried donuts DO NOT lead to weight loss, even though they are high in carbs. But baked potatoes, rice and pasta DO lead to weight loss.
The total consumption of carbs is not as important as the TYPE of carbs consumed.
How many carbs should you eat per day to lose weight?
Anyone from the world of bodybuilding will know that carbs and proteins account for 4 calories per gram and fats account for 9 calories per gram. But not all carbs are 4 calories. Starches are 2 calories per gram and fiber could be anywhere from 1- 3 calories per gram! So you could be eating lesser calories than you think when on a high- carb diet.
Different institutions have different set recommended daily intake of carbs. Factors such as your age, gender, medical conditions, activity level, and weight goals all affect the amount that would be right for you. Maintaining a ratio of 50- 65% of your total calories is most ideal.
This translates anywhere between 250- 350 grams of carbs for someone who is on a 2000 calorie diet. Considering fiber does not really lead to body weight nor contribute directly to calories, it is absolutely ok to include a little more if you like.
Think of it this way, the more carbs you are eating, the lesser high calories fats and processed proteins you are eating.
How a plant- based OR Vegan diet helps.
A vegan is naturally high in fibrous and starch- based carbs. All vegan 'protein' sources such as pulses/ lentils etc already have fiber and starches attached to it. if you choose to go on a whole- food plant- based diet, you also omit processed grains and oil's, which are not the healthiest source of nutrients.
A classic example of how your plate should look is to study and mimic the 'power- plate'. Here is a picture for your understanding:
Plant-based diets lower the risk for many diseases, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The Power Plate supplies all of your daily nutritional requirements, including substantial amounts of fiber, protein, and calcium. - Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicines.
The core cause of diabetes is insulin resistance. Our body is sensitive or resistant to insulin depending on multiple factors. The most important one being a strong gut (yes, digestive system!).
A study on the gut microbiome has found that people with low good gut bacterial richness tend to have more overall body fat, insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and higher levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein.
The study demonstrates that whole foods like barley and brown rice boost good gut bacteria and drop insulin resistance. It also displayed a drop in systemic inflammation in the body.
Another study published online in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that a reduction in dietary fat and increased carbohydrate intake is best for people with type 2 diabetes. It also highlighted that increasing fiber and lowering sugar intake positively affects cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Read this blog for more information:
Whole grains should continue to be encouraged since they are superior nutritionally, helping lower body mass index, less belly fat, and less tendency to gain weight.
Many people don't understand insulin levels...
Insulin resistance is the primary problem in pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. The people who have insulin resistance, have difficulty breaking down blood sugar. As time goes by, this process can result in the formation of type 2 diabetes.
The causes of insulin resistance can be highly complex but maybe due to body inflammation, excess consumption of dietary fats and calories, unhealthy weight gain, and the fatty buildup inside the muscle and liver cells.
However, in reality, the whole-foods and a healthy plant-based diet treat the underlying factors associated with insulin resistance. It gradually lowers body inflammation, sustains a healthy body weight, and reduces the cells' fatty buildup.
When a person becomes less insulin resistant, their blood sugar levels don't shoot up as high when consuming foods rich in carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates have proved time and again about their effectiveness in losing fat or weight and reducing other chronic health problems. Therefore, make sure that you avoid sugary, processed foods, refined grains (like white bread), drink sodas, other additional sugary drinks, and sweets.
Most importantly, make smart eating decisions and choose nutrient-dense carbs that have fiber, vitamins, and minerals in them.
Carbs and Heart Diseases.
A well-balanced, rainbow, whole-food, plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains containing carbohydrates has time and again proven to halt and reverse heart diseases among numerous people.
In two analysis of about 130,000 people followed by the Harvard School of Public Health, those following an animal food-based low carbohydrate diet witnessed an increase in cardiovascular and cancer mortality. In contrast, people following a plant-based diet pattern saw a reduction in mortality rate.
Off topic, but here is a graph showing the greenhouse gas emission required for the production of plant VS animal protein sources.
Studies also show that once the heart patients stopped consuming low-carb artery-clogging diets, their bodies became capable of dissolving away some of the plaque. It simultaneously opened up arteries without drugs or surgery, suggesting their bodies wanted to heal all along. Recovery and even reversal of heart disease became easier with whole-grain plant-based diets in just weeks.
Additionally, a new study published in the British Medical Journal of nearly 44,000 Swedish women for about 16 years proved how a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet significantly boosts the risk of heart disease. The risk further increased as carbohydrate intake fell by 10% and protein intake climbed by 5%.
Thus, carbohydrates and whole-food plant-based diets increasingly prove to lower the risk of heart diseases and raise their level of cardiovascular health.
Long term impacts of a Low Carb Diet.
Medical professionals are now increasingly stating that low-carb diets like the 'keto diet' are not positively effective and healthy as proclaimed otherwise.
Dr. Garth Davis, one of many plant-based medical experts, spoke about the benefits of plant-based diets and the possible adverse effects of eating low carb.
“Stop loading up on excess protein. Stop eating diseased, tortured animals that cause inflammation. Stop fearing real carbs that have fed thriving populations for all of civilization. Feast on beautiful, delicious fruits and vegetables. Eat food that looks alive. Eat food that has been grown and made with love.”
Low carb diets involve consuming large amounts of fat and very few carbs to get the body into ketosis. It is a state where it burns fat for energy when it doesn't have enough carbohydrates to burn.
Since these diets are often high in animal products but low in complex carbohydrates, they lead to long term hormonal fluctuations, elevated cholesterol, brain fog, drop in sex drive and insulin resistance.
There are other data about adopting a plant-based diet with fats making up less than 10% of calories that lowered coronary events among a group of patients with severe coronary artery disease.
Moreover, coronary artery disease is uninformed amongst people that subsist primarily on a diet consisting of grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits, more specifically in Okanawa and rural China.
These studies prove the benefits of focusing on a balance of high carb whole food plant-based diets with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
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