Diet Scare:Don't shun those carbs completely

-Sunita Gurung

Carbohydrates are mostly associated with the piling on of additional kilos. However, they are the best source of energy for the body, mainly because they are more readily converted into glucose which is transported and used by the body, a feat which other macro nutrients cannot do!

When you are on a diet, desperate to shed off those unwanted kilos from your body, the first thing a person invariably does is to lower the consumption of carbohydrates in their dietary routine, or sometimes even eliminate them totally. But, what many may not realize is that, by shunning nature’s power house of energy, you are zapping your own energy levels which can leave you tired and sluggish with a fuzzy brain.

Importance of carbohydrates for our healthy wellbeing
When we talk about carbohydrates, we mostly associate it with piling on those additional kilos, but we somehow tend to overlook the fact that they are not only the best but also the cheapest source of energy for the body. Primarily because they are more readily converted into glucose which is transported and used by the body, a feat which other macro nutrients cannot do!

“Carbohydrates are the major source of fuel: rapidly used by the body for energy. Our brain and the central nervous system specially need carbohydrate as a primary source of energy rather than from protein and fat. Our brain cannot store carbohydrate and thus there should be a continuous supply of it to the body. It is important to remember that prolonged hypoglycemia results in causing functionally irreversible damage to the brain tissue,” says Nano Shova Shakya who holds a PG diploma in dietetics from Mumbai.

Currently working as a senior dietician in Teaching Hospital, she adds, “An adequate supply of carbohydrate spares body protein stores from being partially converted into glucose so that there is a proper usage of protein, that is, for growth and repair of body tissues. Plus, a constant supply of carbohydrate is essential to prevent ketosis, a state in which partially broken down fats accumulate in the blood in the form of ketones. This is very hazardous to health. Carbohydrate is the base of a healthy diet which not only provides energy, but is also an important source of different vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, etc.”

Carbohydrates as weight loss inhibitor
Carbohydrates have always been seen in a bad light as a weight loss inhibitor, and when fad diets advocate eating only traces of it to get that fab figure, it gives all the more reason to shunt it out from our diet. As Nano Shova explains, “The general theory behind low-carb diets for weight loss is: low-carb diets helps in regulating insulin production, which is, in decreasing the circulating insulin. So, less insulin means less fat storage and fewer food cravings, which ultimately results in weight loss. The other principle is that carbohydrate-rich foods absorb more water. When we stop eating carbohydrate, we lose the water weight only, and once we resume our intake of carbohydrate, we regain weight. So, the general rule is to decrease the total calorie intake by decreasing the amount of total carbohydrate and not completely avoiding them. Also, dieting should be accompanied by regular physical exercise.”

Regardless of what foods you eat to get energy, eating too much will definitely lead to weight gain.
1 g carbohydrate contains 3.75 calories
1 g protein contains 4 calories
1 g fat contains 9 calories

Recommended intake of carbohydrate
It is a perennial question which people ask, how much carbohydrate should we eat? Nano Shova shares her expertise, “Normally, our diet should comprise 45 to 65% of total calories from carbohydrate. In our subcontinent, our diet comprises 70 to 80% of total calories from carbohydrate. So, when we are on a diet, the total carbohydrate should not be less than 45-50%, protein 15-20%, and fat 25-30% of the total calorie intake. On the whole, the minimum amount of carbohydrate consumed should not be less than 130 g/day.”

Carbohydrate and physical activity
She also says, “The truth is that the minimum amount of carbohydrate needed for our brain to function should not be less than 130 grams. Definitely, we need more carbohydrate for the normal function of other parts of the body. Studies have revealed that our muscle tissue can be preserved by providing about 180 to 200 g of carbohydrate. And the amount of carbohydrate proportionately increases with increase in our physical activity. It is important to look at an individual’s needs to decide how much carbohydrate should be consumed daily.”

When asked whether the intake of carbohydrate differs from person to person, she explained, “Certainly. We look at an individual’s physical activity, disease condition, and the type of carbohydrate while recommending the amount. For example, for people with renal impairment or liver disease, we give more of foods rich in carbohydrate to fulfill their energy requirement and to prevent catabolism. In case of diabetes, people with high triglyceride level, or COPD, we try to keep it low. However, we basically emphasize more on complex carbohydrate rather than simple ones for maximum health benefit.”

1. Carbohydrate, fats, and proteins are the macro-nutrients which meet the body’s basic energy needs. In the absence of carbohydrate, our body uses protein and fat to fulfill the day’s requirement. So, survival without carbohydrate may be possible for few days as the dietary protein is oxidized as a source of energy. The body will break down muscle tissues and stored fat to supply energy.

2. Your body uses carbohydrate as fuel to get you through your day. When you eat a snack or a meal, your body breaks these large pieces of foods into smaller particles and turns them into simple sugars, which are absorbed into your bloodstream. During digestion, your pancreas releases insulin, which helps move the sugar from your blood into cells, allowing your body to use the food as energy.
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Effects of eliminating carbohydrate
“Prolonged use of high-protein, high-fat diet, which has been popularized by many types of diets, poses potential risks to health,” says Nano Shova. Not every person functions well on a protein-only diet and some never seem to adapt completely to a ketogenic diet.” She adds, “This type of diet is very rich in fat, specially saturated fatty acid, cholesterol, and sodium. At times, an all-protein diet lacks in various vitamins and minerals, which may result in cardiovascular diseases, cancers, hypertension, kidney damage, and hyperuricemia, and may even lead to various nutritional deficiencies.”

“It is also true that the complete lack of carbohydrate makes a person sluggish. They tend to suffer from headache, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue. As this type of diet is very low in fiber, most people who opt for this type of diet tend to suffer from constipation too.”

While low-carb diets are the new fad, with many advocating lowering the intake of carbohydrate and replacing them with dietary proteins and fat, in the long run, avoiding them completely to lose weight is unwise. After all, they are the main source of energy.


Tips for healthy living
• Your daily prudent diet should be a balance of carbohydrate and protein. On your plate, you should include twice as many carbs as proteins.
• Each and every meal should have a complex carbohydrate such as potato, wholemeal bread, or brown rice, and always include a good helping of vegetables. Finish your meal with a piece of fresh fruit. All of this gives your body a balance of simple and complex carbohydrates.
• Breakfast meal should include high fiber whole grain cereals and wholemeal bread.
• Avoid heavy carbohydrate meals in the afternoon which makes you feel slow and sleepy, instead, opt for lean protein such as fish or chicken with just a handful of carbohydrates.
• Cut down your consumption of refined white flour products such as white bread, pasta, pizza, and rice. The refining process produces simple carbohydrates and many vitamins and minerals are lost.


Ask our expert
Fitness trainer Sachit Pradhan, Hardic Club

Q: The best way to regain energy. What would you recommend?
A: The best way to regain energy is to eat proper food, low carbs, and high protein diet. Resting properly, having enough sleep, and stretching exercises also help the body to remain fit. Exercising on a regular basis reduces your body fat and increases your stamina.

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