Carbohydrates have gained a somewhat negative reputation from the media and so-called fitness gurus in the past couple of decades. Carbs have been demonized as the cause of diseases such as diabetes and heart problems. Many claims have also been made that consuming carbohydrates can make people overweight and unhealthy. Modern diets do indeed consist of a lot of processed carbs and artificial fats that are definitely unhealthy. But generalizing all types of carbohydrates as bad is absolutely wrong.
As a matter of fact, science backs the benefits of carbs, and it is quite a long list. These benefits include improved energy, brain performance, heart health, mood, weight loss, metabolism, and even a reduced risk of cancer. Eating carbohydrates (the natural ones) is not only good but actually necessary for the body’s optimal function and processes.
So, here is a breakdown of the benefits of carbohydrates and why you should add these to your diet.
Pasta is a great source of carbohydrates in your diet. (Image Source: Pexels)
It Provides Your Body with Energy
Carbohydrates are the human body’s main source of fuel. When food is broken down into starches and sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream, they turn into glucose (blood sugar). Your body needs this glucose for energy to perform various activities. The brain also needs it to work properly. Not having the right level of glucose in the bloodstream can cause anyone to feel lethargic, weak, and lose focus.
It Can Boost Your Mood
Researchers theorize that carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin (the feel-good chemical). A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that people who followed a low-carb diet for a year (20 to 40 grams of carbohydrates, or 1/2 cup of rice and a slice of bread) experienced anger, anxiety, and depression. This statistic is higher than those with a low-fat and high-carb diet (whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, and fruits).
It Promotes Weight Loss
Carbohydrates have been blamed for weight gain, but they are actually important for healthy weight control. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even recommends eating 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories per day.
A research study from Brigham Young University followed middle-aged women’s eating habits for nearly two years. They found out that those with higher amounts of fiber intake generally lost weight while women with lower levels of fiber in their diet gained a couple of pounds. They explained that many forms of carbs contain dietary fiber, which is indigestible complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbs make you feel full for a longer period of time as the body breaks it down slowly. Eating complex carbohydrates can definitely help you eat less and control your caloric intake. This is true if you eat a moderate amount of whole grains and a lot of fiber.
Make sure you get your carbs from a variety of food sources. (Image Source: Pexels)
Another piece of research from the Journal of Nutrition shows that eating whole grains instead of refined grains can help the body shed off body and belly fat. The study includes adults who ate three servings of whole grains every day and had around 2.4% less body fat and 3.6% less abdominal fat. This is in comparison with participants who ate a quarter of a serving. The intake of slow-release carbs (bran cereal, oatmeal, etc.) three hours before exercise can help the body burn more fat.
It Promotes Better Digestion
Fiber-rich diet help reduce common digestive problems like constipation and indigestion. Insoluble fiber (the fiber that does not break down in digestion) pushes other food along the digestive tract, which speeds up digestion. This also adds bulk to the stool, which makes passing bowel movements a lot easier.
It Promotes Heart Health
Studies show that increasing the soluble-fiber intake by 10 grams a day could lower the “bad cholesterol” LDL by as much as 5%. On the other hand, those who eat more grains (bulgur, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) do not only have lower LDL cholesterol but have higher levels of “good cholesterol” HDL.
Dietary fiber works by preventing the accumulation of bad cholesterol in the arteries. You can, therefore, avoid having blockages that can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Eating more whole-grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, oats, and whole wheat can lower your risk of heart attack and other related ailments.
In contrast, simple carbs from processed foods (cakes, cookies, etc.) and products made from white flour tend to have a higher amount of sugar and fat.
It Keeps You Sharp
A study from Tufts University showed that those who followed a low-carb diet for a week did worse on a working memory test and visuospatial memory. This data was compared to other test subjects who had a low-calorie diet (based on American Dietetic Association guidelines).
It Improves Sleep Patterns
Feeling sluggish? You might want to add more food rich in slow-digesting carbs to your diet for a restful and rejuvenating sleep. Slow-digesting carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin (feel-good chemicals), a neurotransmitter that helps ensure sound sleep. Diets low in serotonin often result in insomnia.
It Improves Athletic Performance
Carbohydrates are an essential part of any athlete’s diet. (Image Source: Pexels)
Athletes often have diets rich in carbs to help them with their endurance and intermittent high-intensity performance. It is also well documented that players need to replenish their carbohydrate storage, especially during periods of intense competition or training. In fact, various forms of carbs are typically taken before, during, and after a physical event.
If you are always engaged in physical activities such as sports, or you’re active throughout the day, you must have good carbs in your diet to supply your body with energy.
It Can Reduce Risks of Cancer
Most people think of potatoes and whole wheat as the only options for good carbs. But there are literally hundreds of different food choices out there that are excellent sources of healthy carbohydrates.
Food rich in antioxidants such as bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, and other vegetables can combat abnormal cellular growth. The high-fiber nature of most vegetables promotes the removal of cholesterol and waste in the body. With this, experts suggest there are benefits of wholesome carbohydrates in fighting cancer in its early stages, as the cells need glucose for fuel. Eating food that is slow to convert into glucose reduces the supply of nutrients to cancer cells.
The benefits of carbohydrates for general well-being cannot be denied. They are an essential part of any healthy diet. But do keep in mind that not all carbs are the same. Different types contain a host of vitamins and minerals that the body needs. Just keep in mind that eating any particular food group in excess tends to not be good for the body.
It is always best to consult with your physician or dietitian to help you find the best carbohydrates for your fitness goals and current health condition. If you are on a vegan diet and want to find out how carbohydrates can fit into your diet plan, find out more here.