Today, many different diets such as the Atkins, ketogenic and South Beach Diet do not endorse eating “carbs”. Many believe that carbohydrates are not good for us and should be cut out from our food.
Is this true? Do we not need carbohydrates at all?
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the main energy source in the body that are broken down into glucose during digestion and used by different organs for their energy.
There are 2 types of carbohydrates:
- Simple: These are found in foods like sugar, dairy products and fruits.
- Complex: These include starch (long-chain glucose molecules) which are found in potato, corn, peas, bread, rice and pasta.
Why Are Carbohydrates Required In Our Diet?
We need carbohydrates for many reasons:
- Primary energy source: A healthy diet includes carbohydrates as the body’s primary energy source. Glucose is used for all activities, including breathing. The extra glucose is stored as fat for converting into energy later.
- Calorie intake: Carbohydrates have less calories per gram compared to fat. Replacing the sugary and fatty foods items with fibre-rich foods will reduce the calories in the food, making you feel full faster.
- Risk of disease: As an integral part of our diet, fibre is beneficial in maintaining good bowel health and lowering constipation. It may reduce cholesterol, risk of bowel cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
What Will Happen If I Cut Carbohydrates Out From My Diet?
Without carbohydrates, our body will have to burn fat and protein for its energy. When fat is used, it produces ketones in the blood, leading to ketosis, with effects like weakness, dehydration, dizziness, headache and nausea in the short term.
Our body may not get enough fibre, which is vital for our health in the long term.
Fruits, vegetables and legumes, which are healthy sources of carbohydrates, also provide us with nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Cutting out carbohydrates completely from our food can lead to deficiency of these nutrients and related health problems unless you make up for the deficiency through other means.
Replacing carbohydrates with other foods that may be high in saturated fat content could raise the cholesterol in the blood, leading to heart disease.
That being said, simple carbs can make you gain weight and even be unhealthy. Try and avoid them if you can completely.
Carbohydrates are an important food group and should not be completely cut even when you are on a diet to reduce weight. Control your portions and choose whole grains and whole fruits.
- The truth about carbs [Internet]. [Updated 2018 Dec 19; cited 2020 Jan 20]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/why-we-need-to-eat-carbs/.
- Harvard Health Publishing. Carbohydrates — Good or Bad for You? [Internet]. [Updated 2015 Jul; cited 2020 Jan 20]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/carbohydrates--good-or-bad-for-you.