What is Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates have gotten an unfair reputation over the past two decades. They have been villainized as causing diabetes, giving you heart disease and in general just making you unhealthy. While it is true that our modern day diet consisting of a high amount of processed carbohydrates (very far from natural) and artificial fats are making us very ill, it is a very broad generalization, and wrong, to say all carbs are bad.
It is like saying the human race is evil because of a few bad people, when in reality, there is always a good side. The same goes for carbohydrates. As it turns out, eating the right carbohydrates- the good ones that are as natural as possible, are good for you, and are necessary for the optimal functioning of your body and all associated processes.
1. An Important Regulator of Mood
Do you ever notice how your mood can go from perfect to foul in the space of a few hours? This is especially noticeable when you are hungry. The reason? Carbohydrates. In addition to low blood sugar levels which make you feel irritated and lethargic, low carbohydrate intake is associated with a greater incidence of depressive illness and other mental disorders. This is because carbohydrates are believed to have a stimulating effect on the production of serotonin, one of the key regulators of a good mood in the brain. Low brain serotonin levels are commonly found in people with depression and less than ideal mental states.
2. Can Help Prevent Weight Gain
Carbohydrates encompass a broad range of foods, in this case- fiber. Fiber is a carbohydrates that is extremely slow digesting, and has numerous benefits on health. Persons who consume a diet high in fiber are much more likely to maintain an ideal body weight, and even lose weight. Fiber increases the satiety index of your meal, so that you feel filled eating less, and for a longer period of time. Many types of fiber absorb water in the stomach and intestines, with the resulting bulk telling your brain you are still full. Mind you, of course, we are not referring to processed whole grains, as they lose much of their nutritive benefits.
3. Can Promote Heart Health
Yes, like two sides of the same coin, carbohydrates can either improve or worsen the health of your heart. Of course, that depends on what carbohydrate you eat. If your preferred source of carbohydrate is a can of soda, don’t expect to see any benefit. However, if you opt for steel cut oats, you can expect improved blood lipid values, in particular reduction of the bad LDL and triglyceride aspects of your lipid profile. High circulating levels of these lipids increase your risk of atherosclerotic disease, ultimately causing damage to the heart.
4. Improve Brain Performance
This is one of the major advantages that carbohydrates offer the body, with their unmatched ability to sharpen mental function. Persons following low carb or ketogenic diets know this first hand, as tasks requiring deep mental co-ordination or performance are typically inhibited. Low carb dieters are also more likely to experience brain fogs, or period where they are unable to process thoughts or recall memories. If your job requires high mental performance, low carb diets may not be your best choice. Couples with the fact the carbohydrates are the brain’s preferred energy source, take that away and you will suffer.
5. Reduced Cancer Risk
This is a catch-22 and depends a lot on which carbohydrates you opt for. While most people will think of things like potatoes when considering food options, there are in reality tons more of options that may have never crossed your mind. For example, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and hundreds of vegetables can all be considered carbohydrates at their core, even though what they bring to the table are vastly different. And these are the carbohydrates you should be aiming for. These are loaded with anti-oxidants, and help to combat abnormal cellular growth. The high fiber nature of these foods also help to promote waste and cholesterol removal. These wholesome carbohydrate foods also fight early stage cancer, as the cells require glucose as their primary source of fuel. Consuming foods that very slowly convert to glucose can reduce the supply of nutrients to them, and cell death or apoptosis may occur.
6. Improved Sleep Pattern
Foods rich in slow digesting carbohydrates also contribute to restful sleep, thanks once more to serotonin. In addition to improving your mood, the neurotransmitter serotonin also helps ensure you experience restful sleep. Diets that are low in carbohydrates have a harder time synthesizing serotonin, with insomnia a probable outcome. This is why milk is considered an effective nightcap, even though it is not the best carbohydrate option.
7. Better Digestive Health
Many of the natural carbohydrate rich foods are rich in fiber as well, an important component of intestinal health. Fiber rich foods help food and waste material to move along unobstructed throughout the body. These carbohydrate rich foods absorb water as well, preventing constipation, and have a role in minimizing colon cancer risk by shortening the time waste spends in contact with healthy cells.
8. Better Metabolism
It’s the bane of weight loss diets; the metabolic crash that occurs when carbohydrates and calories are reduced. This is a primal response by the body in order to survive, since it is hardwired in our DNA that periods of low feeding correlate to starvation. In response, our body slows non-essential metabolic functions, and does just enough so that we live. While we know that we aren’t starving, our body is just doing its job. Carbohydrates also help support normal thyroid hormone and overall metabolic function, allowing us to burn more calories throughout the day.
9. Improved Athletic Performance
Carbohydrates are important for anyone who is involved heavily in sports or athletics, since the body needs an efficient supply of energy in order to perform at peak efficiency. While fats offer and alternative energy source, they cannot beat that provided by carbohydrates.
10. Increase Energy Levels
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, as it is eventually converted in glucose which is necessary for production of ATP- the energy currency used in our body. Diets low in carbohydrates need to take intermediate steps to facilitate the production of glucose, supplementing it with other alternative energy sources. If you are feeling lethargic, a meal with quality carbohydrates is usually sufficient to get you out the rut.