Why Carbs are Necessary for Your Health

Why Carbs are Necessary for Your Health

Read any health and fitness magazine, website or blog and I am sure you’ll have seen an article pertaining to either carbohydrates or fat. Both have been thoroughly demonised in the media over the years but sadly it’s carbs that are taking the hit right now. Fat, on the other hand, has been welcomed back with open arms. At iRaw we love fat, well just the good kind. But that’s for another post. Today, we’re calling attention back to carbs. By the end of this post we hope to convince you why carbs are necessary for your health! Read on….

Why carbs are necessary for your health

It’s been quite the rollercoaster. We had a lot of love for carbohydrates until diets like Atkins, Paleo, Dukan and Keto hit the scene. We also had a lot of research surface about the dangers of going low fat. Then we learned about sugar and things like Glycemic Index. Then we just got confused; in the flurry of upping our fat, we also decided that somewhere in there all carbs should now be avoided like the plague. The problem is we kind of got the message a bit wrong. There is actually a lot of research on the benefits of carbohydrates for both health and weight loss/maintenance. So good news, bread and pasta wont make you gain! There is a ‘but’ to note which we hope to explain in the next few points.

The basic idea – just like fat, the quality and type matters.

Quality Control

Study after study shows that the quality of your food matters. Not only that, it’s kind of common sense. Cutting out sugar, refined grains and processed foods and while upping your fruit, vegetables and consumption of whole food carbs results in better health and weight loss. A lot of carbohydrates on the market are highly processed. Sure we have whole foods like grains, beans, legumes, fruits and vegetables but then we also have everything else: bread, pasta, sandwiches, pre-made meals etc. Sadly, the consumer tends to lean on the ‘easy to cook’ and/or addictive ‘sugary’ options.

Poor quality food that has a lot of chemicals, additives, preservatives and general crap can be very inflammatory to the body. Not only that, but the only sure test for gluten sensitivity or intolerance is to cut out the food in question. And most of the diets that go low carb do just that, they make you eliminate inflammatory foods! So the weight loss that comes a lot of the time is water weight or inflammation that has been present for a long time.

Fibre for the Gut

Carbohydrates contain fibre which is crucial for good gut health and function. Roughage, bulk, bran – whatever you want to call it. You might have noticed by the product marketing but fibre is high up on the radar right now because a lot of us are not eating enough. We focus so much on counting calories or macros, we’ve forgotten to focus on the micro nutrition and other important components that the rest just gets left behind.

The estimate is that we only get about 18g on average of fibre per day (females should aim for minimum 30g and males 45g per day). There’s two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre (beans, pulses, fruit, veg) dissolves into liquid form and gets carried into the body while the latter (whole grains) increases the bulk and softness of waste you pass.

Benefits of fibre include bone health, bowel health and lowered cholesterol. Adding fibre to your diet is also well researched for weight loss. It breaks down at a slower rate, feeds your gut bacteria, adds roughage and keeps blood sugar stead.

Carbs for Fuel

Your body has access to two forms of fuel to make energy: carbs and fat. Carbs are the preferred source because they can be converted fast. The problem is that you can only store about 500g of carbs at any one time in the liver and muscle. On the other hand, fat is a little harder to release but when you do, it lasts a long time in a very steady format. Plus, at any one time you have around 30,000 kcals of body fat on your body available for energy.

Taking fat aside for a moment, the way carbs break down differs depending on source. You’ve probably heard of simple and complex carbs. As the name suggests, simple carbs break down quickly into simple sugars that enter your small intestine, get converted in glucose absorbed into your bloodstream, spiking your insulin levels. Complex carbs require more work. As the name suggested they are harder to breakdown and therefore enter the blood at a slower rate and cause a slower rise in insulin. In short, swap simple carbs for complex ones to help avoid the mid morning and afternoon slumps.

When it comes to fueling for your workout, the type of energy you eat is important. If you train at high intensity most of the time or even a few times a week (i.e. HIIT, CrossFit, Sprint type sports), you need carbs to replenish what you use up in training. On the other hand, if you’re more of a slow and steady (iron man, marathon, walking, running, cycling) cardio gal/guy, then you can look to keep carbs steady and also get a good amount of fat in your diet too. As mentioned, you carry more fat for your body to use for fuel and it’s during steady aerobic sessions that this happens. There’s a little more on this further down.

Carbs for Weight Loss

One popular reason to avoid carbohydrates like the plague is because of weight. This idea that carbs make you fat as a result of these diets like Paleo and Keto that ask you to cut carbohydrates and increase protein and fat. And of course, a lot of people see great results. The problem is correlating the weight loss directly to carbs when there’s other factors at play. At the end of the day, research now points to satiety and not deprivation when it comes to long-term weight loss and maintenance.

[1] There are studies comparing low fat with low carb for weight loss. The results have shown time and time again that it doesn’t matter which one you do, you will lose weight if you restrict calories and/or focus on the quality of food sources. This goes to the idea of popular diets on the market – they all work! The goal is to find one you can sustain long term and that works for you. So low carb or low fat will work.

[2] Inflammation: Going back to this notion of food quality point above.

How Much?

The nutritional science behind carbs and how they are processed by the body is complex because your body reacts differently depending on the source.

The NHS recommends that you don’t exceed 260 grams of carbohydrates per day. But this is a very broad guideline. It will change depending on your body type, your weight, your exercise routine and the rest of your diet. It’s a good starting point though and there’s loads of other guidelines you can find. Another example calculation is 1g per pound of bodyweight or 40% of your daily caloric intake. Use any of these as a starting point and adjust as needed with each week. Try to divide it evenly throughout the day. Ideally have most of your carbs around your training. This is because resistance training increases insulin sensitivity post workout so you use up carbs more efficiently. 

Summary

So there you have it – Why carbs are necessary for your health. There’s quite a lot in here, and still an awful lot more we can continue to talk and dig into. At iRaw we thought long and hard about this. We create products that are rich in complex carbs and fibre, full of nutrient density. These provide the right kind of energy to keep you satisfied and on track with your diet and lifestyle goals.

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Lyda Borgsteijn

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