Carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, sweets, and soft beverages, have been blamed for everything from our rising waistlines to heart disease and the epidemic of Type II Diabetes. But the fact is that not all carbohydrates are created equal, at least not from a nutrient point of view.
Certain carbohydrate-rich foods are significantly more nutritious than others – which presently account for only around 5% of our overall carbohydrate consumption. Whole grains are less processed and have more health-promoting characteristics than refined grains. Secondary grains are also super nutritious and appreciated by the female body, and so are root vegetables, pulses, and other whole plant foods.
This article aims to clarify the role of carbohydrates in fat loss for women and provide guidelines on how to approach your carb intake if your fitness goals are losing weight and becoming more energetic and fitter.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Many women are confused about carbs, and we don't blame them. Carbs have gotten a bad reputation in the past decade, and some of them with good reason. The issue is that often marketing efforts class all carbs as bad while that couldn't be further from the truth. Eating carbohydrates from nutritious ingredients is essential when trying to lose weight, thus eating in a calorie deficiency.
Carbohydrates are chemical molecules usually categorized based on their structure: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are mono- and disaccharides because they contain one or two sugar molecules linked together. They are smaller in size, and that makes them easier to digest.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are known as polysaccharides because they include more than two sugar units linked together in the molecule, and it takes longer for our body to digest them. They also tend to be higher in fiber content.
Why Are Carbs Important?
Carbohydrate consumption has been shown to influence energy dynamics and disease development in the body. Whether the dietary source is a simple sugar cube or high-fiber, low-glycemic index oatmeal, all carbs we ingest are converted into monosaccharides or simple sugars before the body absorbs them.
It's only that "healthier" carbohydrates are digested and absorbed more slowly, but "unhealthy" carbs are digested and absorbed much faster. The food you eat sooner or later is broken down into sugar that enters your bloodstream, which is why it's called blood sugar from that point.
All that sugar then enters the circulation, signaling the pancreas to release insulin. Your pancreas produces insulin to help blood glucose enter various cells in your body, like muscles, organs, etc. This is how carbohydrates are primarily a source of instant energy for all your body's cells.
How Can Carbs Become Evil?
Now, trouble comes when someone eats far more simple carbs over an extended period than necessary for energy. The system gets out of whack because significantly more glucose (sugar) enters the bloodstream daily, so the pancreas is forced to produce much more insulin to help with all that sugar load. Eventually, some cells might become resistant to insulin. The result is higher blood glucose levels.
Now, I am writing about this because when cells become insulin resistant, your body realizes that the blood glucose must go somewhere to prevent damage to your body. Your liver is then signaled to hold the excess blood glucose, and guess what happens when it's full? The liver sends all that extra blood sugar to be stored in fat tissue. Weight gain! Not to mention that it's only a matter of time from there to become prediabetic or develop Type II Diabetes.
So you can see why it's easy to argue that carbs are evil regarding weight gain or fat loss. However, it's worth understanding that ALL carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by your metabolism, including complex carbs and those found in dairy, pulses, fruits, and veggies.
What you eat, and not just the type of carbs but the order in which you consume your macronutrients, including carbs, protein, and fat, can determine how quickly or slowly the energy from your food will become glucose and enter your bloodstream.
The Pros and Cons of Eating Low-Carb
If you ask virtually any women what they need to do to lose a few pounds, they will almost certainly respond, "Cut back on the carbohydrates."
While the low carb movement has risen and fallen in popularity since the late 1990s and early 2000s Atkins resurgence, most people today believe that carbohydrates are fundamentally fattening.
Health-conscious guests order hamburgers without buns, forego the baked potato side dish and return the bread basket to the kitchen. (Or don't, and then feel bad about it.) Cutting carbohydrates (while lowering total calories) certainly works successfully for some people as a weight loss technique.
If it hadn't, Atkins would never have been popular in the first place. Your metabolism may lag, stress hormones may rise, and muscle-building hormones may fall. You're feeling horrible, disoriented, lethargic, irritated, and perhaps ill. Worst of all, you probably don't shed that much weight in the long run.
All those symptoms are due to your body not receiving enough carbs to break them into glucose and use that for energy, so it needs to choose a method called ketosis to use fat as energy. It takes a lot more for your body to do that, and it can have side effects such as flu-like symptoms for a few days.
Long-term, you risk becoming deficient in specific vitamins and minerals if you cut out carbs entirely for an extended period. Not to mention that it's harder to stick to such restrictive diets, so the chances of failure are higher, which can result in a series of yo-yo dieting.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat for Weight Loss?
Simply eliminating the unhealthiest carb sources from your diet, such as refined wheat and added sugars, can put you on the road to better health.
That doesn't mean you have to cut ALL the carbs. Think potato, rice, quinoa, occasionally even durum wheat pasta, root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or beetroot. These are excellent carbohydrate sources, while they also contain a host of vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy and function well.
The minimum carbohydrate recommendation for the average person is 130g per day. You should decide how much carbs you eat based on your activity levels and muscle mass. If you train hard and often, you'll need more than someone primarily sedentary doing some cardio exercise. Fiber intake is also crucial. The minimum recommendation is 25g per day. However, the optimal amount is around 35g per day for women.
One thing to remember is that your diet needs to be balanced and include protein as well as healthy fats. So if your goal is to lose weight, you'll need to ensure that your overall calorie intake is less than what your body uses. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on fats. If you need help figuring out how to calculate your macronutrient intake, feel free to get in touch!