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Why we need to stop bashing carbohydrates

Despite being maligned in modern diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy life.

 |  Hello, Health  |  3-minute read |   17-11-2018
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It has become fashionable nowadays to badmouth carbohydrates — to many, it has almost become like a religion.

When my clients realise that I am giving them enough carbohydrates to eat in their diet, they are initially puzzled. However, when they lose weight (against their expectations), they are visibly relieved. After all, we are wired to eat some carbohydrates and cutting them off completely actually goes against our very grain (pun intended).

Besides making us unhappy (dare to disagree!), giving up carbs completely is a very unhealthy way to eat and live — which is why I advocate actively against diets that belittle and ban this important food group.

So why do we need to make sure that carbs are a part of our diet? Well, here are some very valid reasons.

Firstly, we all need energy to survive and function. And carbohydrates deliver energy in plenty, and thus help keep a check on fatigue, mind fog and irritability, and are a very good bet to deliver enough energy to last us through the day.

Secondly, have you noticed how serial dieters tend to become depressed about two weeks into a diet? There is a clear science behind it — to stay happy we need more serotonin (a neurotransmitter that improves our mood) in circulation in the brain. The natural way to ensure this is to eat foods from which the body makes serotonin. Now, serotonin is made from a constituent of a protein called 'tryptophan' (that is why eating enough protein is important). However, it has been proven that tryptophan works best when consumed in combination with a small bit of carbohydrate. So unless you give your body some carbohydrates, you might just be setting yourself up for a serotonin drop — leading to unhappiness and even risk depression.

main_carbs_111718010156.jpgConsuming carbohydrates is essential for all-round health (Photo: Reuters)

Thirdly, serotonin besides being a mood booster is also a cravings cutter. So if you are looking to lose weight, and want to continue to lose it in a sustained manner you need to keep cravings (such as your chocolate and mithai yearnings) under control. That is why you need carbs in your diet. Another function of carbohydrates is to prevent the breakdown of proteins for energy. If you don’t want to lose your muscle mass, you need to include some carbs in your diet.

Finally, not just your body, but your brain also needs glucose (from carbs) as an energy source. Supplying energy to the brain is an important (yet lesser-known) function of carbs. Facing brain fogging, concentration issues, and memory lapses? Now you know why!

Carbs also help fuel your kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system. So cut them off at your own peril.

Get the power

The fact is that everyone’s digestive system needs carbohydrates, but you need to get smart about how you eat them. The best way to eat them is to balance them with fibre, protein, or fat at every meal. Balancing carbohydrates decrease the rate of absorption of glucose, so your blood sugar doesn’t spike up dramatically.

Also while all carbohydrates in moderation can find a place in your diet — most of them provide their own set of benefits — making good carbohydrate choices is a good idea.

So while you eliminate sources of simple sugars such as soda, sweets, candies, cakes, cookies, and similar snack foods, and reduce simple carbs like white bread and pasta, do not cut down complex carbohydrates too much. These are broken down slowly by the body, ensuring a slow and steady release of energy into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar levels constant, and fatigue at bay.

Make sure you include carb foods that are loaded with nutrients and fibre, such as fruits and vegetables. No eliminating these, please!

Also read: Winter is here: Five food reasons to celebrate the season!

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Writer

Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).

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