Low carb diets, high carb diets, zero carb diets, carb cycling – these are all terms that are everywhere in the health world at the moment, but what do they all mean?
Carbohydrates are a member of the main 3 macronutrients, along with fats and proteins. They are a combination of starches, sugars, and fibers, and are mostly found in fruit, veg, grains, and dairy products.
Carbohydrates can usually be categorized under 1 of the 2 'types' of carbohydrates; simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are your sugars: Glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc. Mostly found in typically sweet foods such as chocolate, sweets, and fruits, simple carbohydrates are usually seen as the 'bad' kind of carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are your starches. These are not worlds apart from simple carbohydrates, however, they are made up of long chains of sugars, instead of short 'simple' ones.
Complex carbohydrates are found in bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. And are usually seen as the 'good' kind of carbohydrates.
Why Do They Get Such A Bad Reputation In The Diet World?
In recent times carbohydrates have developed somewhat of a bad reputation in terms of their effects on health.
The huge influx of low/zero carb diets has only furthered this misconception that 'carbs are bad for you.'
Carbohydrates are essential for energy and overall wellbeing; by avoiding them, you are certainly doing your body a disservice.
The reason why carbohydrates developed a bad rep is not that they are actually 'bad,' but instead because all carbs have been generalized under one name.
Most simple carbohydrates (glucose and sucrose in particular) are absorbed incredibly quickly, and while they offer a quick boost of energy, they also cause spikes in blood sugar levels.
This is bad because:
- Energy that is not used right away is converted and stored as fat.
- Spikes in blood sugar can cause insulin resilience, which can lead to diabetes.
- High blood sugar is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Insulin resilience can lead to an overworked pancreas and thyroid, which in turn can cause many hormonal imbalances.
Some simple carbohydrates, such as fructose (found in fruit), are also absorbed very quickly but may not have the same blood sugar spiking effects as others.
Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in grains, are very slow absorbing and take a long time to metabolize. This means that they result in little or no increase in blood sugar, and the chance of being stored as fat is limited.
So the problem with carbohydrates is not the carbohydrates at all, and instead of the type of carbohydrates that are being consumed.
What Is Carb Cycling, and how do you do it?
Carb cycling is a practice that has been used by athletes for many years, but it can also be a useful diet approach to those simply looking to lead a healthier lifestyle.
The method behind carb cycling is to only feed the body carbohydrates when it needs them the most – eliminating the chance of waste, and the chance of being stored as fat.
How to carb cycle.
Carb cycling can be done in the parameters of multiple time frames. Some people choose to do alternate days, (one-day carbs, one day not) other opt for longer stretches of a week or month of carbs, then a week or month off.
The key part is that you match the carb time with the carb-free time.
Why You Should Eat Carbs.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy; without them, the body can enter a state of ketosis where it will use fat for energy instead, but there is a lot of debate over the health consequences of this process.
As a general rule, carbohydrates are an essential element of any diet and should make up around 40% of your food intake.
Carbohydrates are full of necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all essential for the proper functioning of the body.
What are the negative effects of a low carb diet?
While low carb diets can lead to weight loss, they can also pose many temporary and prolonged side effects, including:
- Skin rashes
- Muscle cramps
- General fatigue
Negative side effects can present themselves almost immediately after reducing carb intake or may take several months to settle in from the development of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Effects of a low carb diet on the brain.
You may have heard that following a low carb diet may lead to a reduction in brainpower, but this is not universally true.
While having low energy levels and blood sugar can lead to a lack of mental clarity, if you are getting enough energy from other sources, this should not be a problem.
For prime brain functionality and health, it is always advised that you maintain a well-balanced diet full of healthy fat, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins.
Maintaining A Balanced Diet.
A balanced diet refers to eating a variety of food from all of the 5 major food groups.
- Grains - bread, cereals, rice, pasta
- Vegetable and legumes
- Dairy - milk, yogurt, cheese
- Meat, fish, eggs, nuts
By eating foods from all of the major food groups, you will be ensuring that you are consuming enough macro and micronutrients.
The importance of a healthy balanced diet.
The importance of a healthy balanced diet cannot be undermined. Along with following an active lifestyle, diet is a key contributor to overall health and well-being.
By avoiding certain food groups, you will be depriving your body of essential nutrients, or at the very best, making it much harder for you to obtain them.
The best practice is to follow a diet rich in lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. It is okay to eat all foods to a certain degree, but it is important to consume simple carbs, refined sugars, 'bad fats,' and processed foods in moderation.