Monday, January 19, 2015

Carbohydrate mythbuster

Low-carb, no-carb, paleo, keto. Raise your hands if you've tried any of those diets. *raises hand*

In the last few years, carbohydrates have gotten quite a negative reputation, but truthfully they are a wonderful macronutrient group. With popularity of Atkins or more recently paleo or grain-free diets, carbs are defaulted as the "terrible-for-you-make-you-put-on-a-million-pounds-and-die-early" category and I won't lie, I've fallen into this trap as well. I have spent hours researching low-carb recipe alternatives, convincing myself that shiritaki noodles taste just like the real thing (they are good and quite a traditional Chinese/Japanese ingredient that has their place in cooking, but NOT an adequate noodle substitute), and spending hundreds of dollars on low-carb high-protein bars.
But want to know a dirty little secret? Carbs are not bad for you. Carbs won't make you blow up like a balloon. Carbs are necessary for healthy, day-to-day function.

1. Carbs are your body's most efficient fuel source. 
Ideally, your body will take a glucose molecule and in a process called cellular respiration convert it into ATP, which is the energy source that your cells can use. Of course, your body can technically use fat and protein breakdowns are intermediates into this process, but it takes much longer and is less energy efficient to do so. As a result, you feel sluggish and lacking energy all the time. In recovery especially, your body depends on carbs to be able to repair and run because it cannot convert dietary fat into energy - it must use body fat. When your body fat levels are dangerously low due to restriction, you will have a hard time repairing damages if you do not eat enough carbohydrates, even if you continue to eat a high fat diet.
2. Carbs make you happy.
Research suggests that carbs helps your brain release serotonin aka the feel-good hormone. In fact, one of the biggest controls for serotonin release is food consumption: your body requires the insulin spike and tryptophan ratio that comes from eating carbs alone to release the amount of serotonin - fats and proteins cannot do this. Studies have shown that individuals on a carb-restricted diet have reported higher levels of anxiety and depression. Sound familiar?

3. Carbs are necessary for muscle growth and repair.
Like I have mentioned before, you can drown yourself in protein shakes but without an insulin spike that come from carb consumption, your muscles cannot absorb those proteins to repair. This is why so many have reported gaining a healthy amount of lean muscle mass from increased rest and carb consumption during recovery.

4. Carbs help keep you satiated 
One of the scariest things during recovery is the fear of a binge. I have never craved candy and sweets as much as when I was massively carbohydrate restricting. There is a reason why Quest Bars are so popular in the recovery community: they simulate the taste of sweets like cookies and brownies so that you are tricking your body when it is begging you for some much needed carbs. That's why one Quest Bar never seems like it is enough and why you are constantly craving them. You have taught your brain to associate Quest Bars with carbohydrates, but your body isn't getting that macronutrient so it is just making you want more.
5. Carbs increase your metabolism
Appetite is controlled by hormones called leptin and ghrelin, which work against each other. High leptin + low ghrelin = lower appetite while low leptin + high ghrelin = high appetite. When you carbohydrate restrict, you increase your ghrelin levels and decrease your leptin levels, which suppresses the metabolism, increases your body's fat-storing capacity, and leaves you feeling famished. This is why people who lose weight on carbohydrate restricted diets end up gaining all of the weight and more back as soon as they start eating "normally" again: their hormonal and metabolic balance is all out of whack. The way to solve this? Increase your carbohydrate and caloric intake intake.

Fruits, candy, bread, pasta, rice - they are not the enemy. Carbohydrates are not bad for you. Our bodies have evolved to naturally crave things that our good for us and revolt against things that are bad for us. That is why we like sweet things (indicator of carbs and sugar) and dislike bitter things (bitter foods in nature indicate toxins).

Carbs keep us satiated. Carbs make us happy. Carbs give us energy and makes us want to go out and interact with the world. Carbs are meant to nourish us so have some rice and sweet potatoes, but have a cupcake or piece of chocolate too. After all, carbs are good for the soul too.