Are Carbohydrates The Enemy To Our Waistlines?


For some, carbohydrates are seen as the food that puts inches on our stomachs and flab on our thighs, while others praise them for their provision of essential energy. But carbohydrates have been part of most staple diets for centuries and to cut them out entirely would be difficult, possibly even dangerous. So what is the truth? Are carbohydrates the enemy to our waistlines?

What are carbs?

Carbs are present in primarily starchy foods, such as potatoes, pasta, and rich, but they are also present in plant-derived foods, including cereals, beans, nuts, and seeds. Carbs can even be found in milk and other dairy products. Carbs are made up of chains of sugar molecules and the amounts vary from food to food. Generally, the fewer sugar molecules a food contains, the quicker the carbohydrate present will be broken down during the digestive process.

During digestion, all of the carbs in the food, excluding fibre, are broken down further into single sugar units to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This is an essential process for the body, for sugar, or glucose provides most of the energy our bodies need, and all of the energy our brains need.

What do carbs do for us?

If you eat food that contains carbohydrates, you are raising the level of glucose in your body. This increased glucose level stimulates an insulin release, which then stimulates an increase in the levels of glucose acquired from the bloodstream. Any of the glucose that is not immediately required for energy is stored in the liver and muscles, changing into glycogen in the process. The glycogen in the liver can be converted back into glucose to keep levels at a normal level between meals. The glycogen in the muscles is there to help us perform any activity that requires energy, such as walking or running.

Without carbs, our bodies will begin converting protein or fat into glucose, a process that is designed solely for unexpected and short periods of fasting. If we do not have carbs in our diet, our bodies will lose water, potassium and sodium, and our muscles will not be able to supply our energy needs.

Do they make us fat?

No one food group makes us fat. It is over-consumption of any food group, be it protein in the form of meat or carbs in the form of potatoes, that lead us to gain weight. Put simply, if you take in more calories than you burn, you will put on weight. It is only when carbohydrates are combined with fat, as in foods such as chocolate bars and biscuits, that they can become bad for our weight. To lose weight, or keep weight down, you need to eat only what your body requires.

In fact, carbs can help you to lose weight. Wholegrain carbs, such as brown bread and brown rice, can fill you up for longer, making you less prone to snacking. The key is to consider carbs’ glycaemic index (GI) – a scale ranging from 1-100 that measures the rate of digestion and the body’s blood glucose response to each food. Foods that measure low down the GI scale are better for us, because these are digested slowly, with blood glucose rising at a relative rate and staying higher for longer.

Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diets and viewing them as the enemy to our waistlines is based on a misunderstanding of how they work. As with most foods, there are good carbohydrates and there are even better ones, so thinking carefully about the types of food we consume, and more importantly, the quantities is the best way to be kind to our waistlines.