February 12, 2024

Let's End The Carbs Debate Once And For All

profile picture of manisha Holistic Healer

Manisha B K

MPH (James Lind), MBA, CTAA, 200 RYT Yoga

Visit our LinkedInVisit LinkedIn Profile
Let's End The Carbs Debate Once And For All
Quick Links

We have never heard a doctor say, ‘Eat lots of rice and potatoes.’

Have you heard anyone say, "I lost weight while eating dal, rice, or dosa"? It's strange even to hear!

Rice, potatoes, dal, and dosa all have one thing in common: carbohydrates!

In my experience as a Clinical Nutritionist, I often hear how bad carbohydrates are.

But is it the carbs that are bad?

This article will spotlight carbohydrates: the good and the bad.

Further, we will discuss types of carbohydrates, foods rich in carbohydrates, and the disease burden concerning a highly dense carbohydrate diet.

We will also debunk prevalent myths and clarify some hot questions about carbohydrates and diet.

Types of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, fondly called ‘Carbs,’ are sugar molecules broken down into glucose in the body.

We get carbohydrates from foods like rice, wheat, grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, sugar, and dairy.

There are different types of carbohydrates:

  • Simple carbohydrates
  • Complex carbohydrates

Simple carbs are easily broken down and take less time for absorption into the blood.

These are also called monosaccharides and disaccharides and can easily trigger a spike in the blood sugar (fructose is an exception).

crop black mother with kid decorating cake with powdered sugar
Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

Processed sugar, jaggery, milk, milk products, and fruits are some forms of simple carbs.

Complex carbs, also known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, are a mix of starch and fiber; hence, their digestion is slow.

Rice, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and beans. As these are slowly digested, glucose is gradually released into the bloodstream, not triggering a sudden spike

cooked rice with vegetables on white ceramic plate
Photo by Zi’s Food&NatureArt on Pexels.com

Complex carbohydrates are always preferred for a healthier metabolism, they are filling, and aid in digestion, and weight loss.

Simple carbohydrates, although equally energy-giving, do not last long.

There is an instant shoot and fall of blood glucose with simple carbohydrates. 

The importance of carbohydrates in the human body

The entire world is against carbohydrates.

These macronutrients play a key role in glucose metabolism, glycogen storage, energy homeostasis, digestive mechanism, insulin release, and brain and body functioning. 

A carbohydrate is a macronutrient that provides energy to the body, and it is recommended to consume 45% -60 % of carbohydrates in a day from dietary sources. 

Carbs and the Brain

Neurons have the highest energy demand in the brain and the central nervous system, which requires continuous glucose delivery from the blood.

Compared with other organs, the brain possesses paradoxically limited stores of glycogen, which are exhausted in up to 10 min without replenishment.

In nervous tissue, glycogen is stored in astrocytes.

There is no break from the brain's energy demand as the brain's metabolism rate is relatively steady day and night. (Sünram-Lea & Owen, 2017)

Children’s brain needs are always in an ascending range as their cognitive needs change daily.

Glucose utilization of the brain is at its highest from ages 4 to 10 due to intense learning

Adults gradually decline glucose utilization of the brain, which is when glucose stability should also be established for better cognitive functioning. 

Carbs and the Gut

Carbohydrates, especially polysaccharides in healthy amounts, benefit healthy gut microbial functioning.

Carbohydrates help release the SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids), butyrate, and acetate that maintain a friendly gut environment. (Cheng et al., 2020)

Carbohydrates are the key to energy metabolic processes like glycolysis, ATP production, and hepatic metabolism.

Glucose is stored in various forms in the human body, like the muscles and liver, and as fat reserves using excessive glucose stores. 

The link between nutritional science and cognitive psychology has developed rapidly in recent times.

More research is being done to study the influence of carbohydrates on cognitive psychology. (Gilsenan et al., 2009)

You May Also Like: The Gut-Brain Axis

The GOOD and the BAD about carbohydrates

A diet without carbs might lead to headaches, fatigue, confusion, lack of focus, constipation, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. 

As we now understand carbohydrates are necessary for some physiological functions in the body, there is also a focus on what can go wrong with carbohydrate consumption and how. 

Before delving into the disadvantages of carbohydrates, let us also understand:

  • Glycaemic load &
  • Glycaemic index

The glycaemic index (GI) rates carbohydrates according to how quickly they raise the blood glucose level.

The glycaemic load (GL) rates carbohydrates according to the glycaemic index and the amount of carbohydrates in the food, for example, what amount of food will raise the blood glucose. 

Making dietary recommendations based on GI may be misleading, especially since low GI does not always mean high nutritional value, and high GI foods, such as potatoes, may have other healthful qualities, including low energy density and a high satiety rating. (Vega-López et al., 2018)

‘Anything in excess is opposed to nature! ‘The same principle applies to carbohydrates. 

Excessive consumption of carbohydrates might disturb physiological functions in the body, leading to many metabolic and non-communicable diseases.

Carbohydrates and the disease burden

Human metabolism works in a loop wherein every action in the body has an equal or intense reaction.

Our body agrees with Newton’s third law.

Too little carbohydrates might lead to low sugar, poor sleep quality, poor cognition, fatigue, lack of energy, weakness, nausea, depression, and nutrient deficiencies that can lead to serious outcomes. 

Excessive consumption of carbohydrates leads to storage of visceral fat, obesity, fatty liver, inflammation, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, PCOS, menstrual irregularities, atherosclerosis, hypertension, stroke, and coronary artery diseases. (Clemente-Suárez et al., 2022)

Maintaining a balance is the key concerning carbohydrate consumption. 

Are carbohydrates the leading cause of increased diabetic cases?

India is a country where most of the population consumes a carbohydrate-rich diet.

As per the Indian Council of Medical Research – India Diabetes (ICMR INDIAB) study published in 2023, the prevalence of diabetes is 10.1 crores. (Press Information Bureau, n.d.)

India is ranked second highest country, housing more than 77 million diabetics.

An increase in type 2 diabetes is predominantly seen due to modifiable factors.

A huge population depends on refined grains, sugar, sweet treats, fatty foods, and unhealthy diets/snacking. (Pradeepa & Mohan, 2021)

This lifestyle has made a heavy impact on genetics involving epigenetic tags and activating the gene that triggers metabolic disruptions and non-communicable diseases like type 2 diabetes predominantly. 

Should I count my carbs?

Balance is the key to nutrition, and never exclude macro and micronutrients from your diet.

Instead, measure your meals and do not overdo them.

Measuring your meals might seem a little off.

Often, I face criticism from my clients during the initial stages of their diet programs when I ask them to measure and eat.

Portion size matters!

woman measuring ingredients in kitchen
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

As I always say to my clients, “It is not what you eat but how much of it you eat!”

It is an excellent practice to have your portion sizes sorted before you sit down for a meal.

Yes, carbohydrate counting works wonders, especially for people who suffer from type 1 & 2 diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. 

Research shows that carbohydrate counting has benefitted people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. (Meade & Rushton, 2016)

How do you choose healthy carbs?

The answer is complex carbohydrates, and this should be the rule of eating.

Complex carbohydrates are a combination of starch and fiber that improves satiety and digestion. 

  • Always mix your carbohydrates with proteins. 
  • Eat less carbohydrates and larger portions of protein comparatively.
  • Consume whole grains, preferably.
  • The timing of carbohydrates is important. Heavy starches should be consumed before 6 pm. 
  • Avoid processed and packaged foods.
  • Avoid sugary treats and drinks, and consume not more than two spoons of sugar in a day.
  • Fruits and vegetables are good sources of slow-release carbohydrates.
  • Glycaemic load and glycaemic index are both important. 

Some FAQs about carbs

Myth 1 – Potatoes are a bad form of carbohydrates.

Debunked – Potatoes are a good form of carbohydrates; having them in moderation occasionally is not harmful. Deep-fried potatoes can be unhealthy. 

Myth 2 – Rice is the root cause of diabetes.

Debunked – Rice by itself cannot be the reason for diabetes. Excessive rice consumption, lack of protein in the diet, and a sedentary lifestyle can be unhealthy for weight gain. 

Myth 3 – Fruits are bad for diabetics. 

Debunked – Fruits are a healthy energy source for diabetics as fructose is not instantly broken down. Fructose is a natural sugar that is a slow-release carbohydrate. Fruits are also a good source of fiber and hydration. 

Gentle Reminder

It is always advisable to seek professional help to understand your body because carbohydrate metabolism, basal metabolic rate, and fat storage vary from person to person, owing to their genes and lifestyle. 

As we conclude that carbohydrates are not bad, one must never forget that BALANCE IS THE KEY! 

References

Cheng, X., Zheng, J., Lin, A., Xia, H., Zhang, Z., Gao, Q., Lv, W., & Liu, H. (2020). A review: Roles of carbohydrates in human diseases through regulation of imbalanced intestinal microbiota. Journal of Functional Foods, 74, 104197. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.JFF.2020.104197

Clemente-Suárez, V. J., Mielgo-Ayuso, J., Martín-Rodríguez, A., Ramos-Campo, D. J., Redondo-Flórez, L., & Tornero-Aguilera, J. F. (2022). The Burden of Carbohydrates in Health and Disease. Nutrients, 14(18). https://doi.org/10.3390/NU14183809

Gilsenan, M. B., de Bruin, E. A., & Dye, L. (2009). The influence of carbohydrate on cognitive performance: a critical evaluation from the perspective of glycaemic load. British Journal of Nutrition, 101(7), 941–949. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508199019

Meade, L. T., & Rushton, W. E. (2016). Accuracy of Carbohydrate Counting in Adults. Clinical Diabetes : A Publication of the American Diabetes Association, 34(3), 142. https://doi.org/10.2337/DIACLIN.34.3.142

Pradeepa, R., & Mohan, V. (2021). Epidemiology of type 2 diabetes in India. Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, 69(11), 2932. https://doi.org/10.4103/IJO.IJO_1627_21

Press Information Bureau. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2024, from https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1944600

Sünram-Lea, S. I., & Owen, L. (2017). The impact of diet-based glycaemic response and glucose regulation on cognition: evidence across the lifespan. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 76(4), 466–477. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665117000829

Vega-López, S., Venn, B. J., & Slavin, J. L. (2018). Relevance of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for Body Weight, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 10(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/NU10101361

Share this article

Livest Health's assurance

crossmenuchevron-down-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram