What are they?
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibres found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates – one of the basic food groups – are important to a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three main ways the body obtains energy, or calories. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats. Macronutrients are essential for proper body functioning, and the body requires large amounts of them. All macronutrients must be obtained through diet; the body cannot produce macronutrients on its own.
What do they do?
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. They also prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism. Also, carbohydrates are important for brain function. They are an influence on mood, memory etc, as well as a quick energy source. In fact, the RDA of carbohydrates is based on the amount of carbs the brain needs to function.
Carbs for weight loss
Though carbs are often blamed for weight gain, the right kind of carbs can actually help you lose and maintain a healthy weight. This happens because many good carbohydrates, especially whole grains and vegetables with skin, contain fibre. It is difficult to get sufficient fibre on a low-carb diet. Dietary fibre helps you to feel full, and generally comes in relatively low-calorie foods.
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009 followed middle-aged women for 20 months and found that participants who ate more fibre lost weight, while those who decreased their fibre intake gained weight. This is why I encourage all clients to aim for up to 30g fibre per day.
Not getting enough carbs can cause problems. Without sufficient fuel, the body gets no energy. Additionally, without sufficient glucose, the central nervous system suffers, which may cause dizziness or mental and physical weakness. A deficiency of glucose, or low blood sugar, is called hypoglycaemia.
If the body has insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores, it will consume protein for fuel. This is problematic because the body needs protein to make muscles. Using protein for fuel instead of carbohydrates also puts stress on the kidneys, leading to the passage of painful byproducts in the urine.
So if you feel the need to eliminate carbohydrates, think again! They are super important and absolutely required for any heath and fitness goal!