Written by Tawanda Amedio Taderera (Pharmacist)

There many differing views about whether we should reduce the amount of carbs in the diet or eliminate them completely.

The million dollar question is: must you stay away completely and avoid carbs? The answer is very simple, the human body needs carbs just as much as it needs a well-balanced supply of protein, fat, vitamins and other nutrients. Removing carbs completely from your diet is not healthy and may result in weight gain.

Here is why; when you have low levels of carbohydrate in your body it goes under stress and produces a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol will among other things cause you to gain weight.

Carbohydrate will also help keep the mood swings away. Individuals have reported feeling tired, weak and irritable when they are on low carb diets.

So why have carbs been labelled with many bad names? The most likely reason is all carbohydrates are not created equal. There are actually 2 types of carbohydrates, the poor (bad) carbs and the good carbs. As you know the bad always outshines the good.

Let us look at the bad carbs first so that we can appreciate why they are inappropriate. Bad carbs are also known as refined carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates or processed carbohydrates. These sugars have high glycaemic index which means that they are processed very quickly by the body and absorbed readily from the stomach leading to a quick and sharp increase in the blood sugar and insulin (the insulin spike). You will stay full for a short period of time and get hungry quicker all of which promote fat storage and subsequent weight gain. Examples of foods that contain this type of carbohydrates are white floor, doughnuts, white bread, pastries, cakes, soda, sweets,  pasta, pizza and sugar just to mention a few. From the examples here, it is clear that most of these products have been processed and stripped of their fibre, vitamins and minerals. So you must stay away from any carbohydrates that have a high glycaemic index.

In addition to gaining weight, the refined carbs are likely to cause and increase in blood triglycerides and possibly heart disease. The insulin spikes are also a risk factor to developing type 2 diabetes.

The other type of carbs is called complex carbs, and they are much healthier than the former type. Complex carbs are healthy nutritious and digest slower in the stomach. This means you stay fuller for longer and since they are absorbed slowly and the blood sugar levels maintain a steady state, there are no insulin spikes associated with complex carbs. If you consume these carbohydrates soon after a workout, you will have a sustained supply of energy for your increased metabolism. Your body will burn fat and you will lose weight. Some examples of foods that contain complex carbohydrates are: oatmeal, sweet potato, yam, whole grain rice (brown and white), and whole grain breads to mention a few. From the examples here the foods are not processed and contain their fibre, micro nutrients like B vitamins, selenium, iron and magnesium. You must keep these types of carbs in your diet in preference to the poor abs.

Some people are more sensitive to carbohydrate than normal and in these cases, it is advisable to eat your carbohydrates in the morning so that the body slowly utilises them during the course of the day. Additionally, a good time to take carbs is soon after an intense work out. It assists in boosting your metabolism.

The take home points are

  1. Avoid refined carbs they will cause weight gain, insulin spikes and are a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes
  2. Take more Complex carbohydrates that are healthy and nutritious and even contain fibre
  3. To get maximum benefit from your carbohydrates, take them early in the morning or soon after an intense exercise

Remember to maintain a caloric deficit diet, exercise and eat proper portions. The weight will go away with time.

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