We always hear that the miracle is a low-carb or no-carb diet in order to lose weight. The truth is that leading a balanced diet that contains carbohydrates is the real miracle.
What are carbohydrates and why do we need them?
Carbohydrates is one of the main nutrients to provide our body's energy. Human body transforms carbohydrates to glucose, blood sugar that is the “fuel” for our cells, tissues and organs. It’s also stored in the liver and in muscles in extra amounts when needed later.
Food sources can differ on the type of carbohydrates they contain. There are simple or complex carbohydrates. Food sources for the simple type are fruits, vegetables, milk or milk products, and of course, table sugar or products with added sugar because simple carbohydrate are technically sugars. Whole grain bread products or cereals, pasta, and starchy vegetables and legumes contain the complex type that has to be transferred to sugar in our body. What's beneficial in food sources with complex carbohydrates is that they contain healthy dietary fiber too.
What is the recommended amount of carbohydrates in a well-balanced diet?
A healthy diet contains a balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The recommended daily amount of carbohydrates for an adult is 310 grams. People with diabetes should not consume more than a 200 grams daily.
The well-known nutrient pyramid shows that the main source of energy for the human body is carbohydrates, and they should make up the largest percentage of our daily calorie intake. The healthiest option is if the largest amount of carbohydrates comes from vegetables or fruits, whole grain bread or cereals; not from refined products with extra sugar. A diet with a generally high amount of carbohydrates (especially if they are the simple type) may lead to overweight, worsening the side effect of surplus weight with vitamin and nutrition deficiencies. A daily amount below what's recommended for long term can lead to malnutrition, which almost have the same side effects.
You can count your daily need here depending on your age, weight and height: http://www.healthcalculators.org/calculators/carbohydrate.asp
People who have diabetes have to maintain their blood sugar strictly, counting carbohydrates may help. Counting carbohydrates requires a note or table with the food sources in the beginning. But after a while, it gets more easier as we memorize the carbohydrate content of foods.
What is Glycemic index?
Glycemic index (GI) measures how a carbohydrate amount increases the blood sugar level after consuming it. The lesser GI, the better, since it raises the blood sugar lever less. They need more time to absorb and as they spend more time in the digestive system, well eventually feel hungry. Since meat and fat don’t have carbohydrates and just proteins, they don’t have a GI.
Low GI Foods (55 or less): 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli, pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgur, sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils, most fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and carrots.
Medium GI (56-69): Whole wheat, rye and pita bread, Quick oats, brown-wild or basmati rice, and couscous.
High GI (70 or more): White bread or bagel, corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal, shortgrain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix, russet potato, pumpkin, pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers, melons and pineapple.
Storing over time has an effect to a food's GI. For example, the more ripe a fruit or vegetable is, the higher its GI. Juice has a higher GI than whole fruit; mashed potato has a higher GI than a whole baked potato, stone ground whole wheat bread has a lower GI than whole wheat bread. Long cooking time increases GI. Combining high GI foods with low ones creates a balanced diet since a high GI can be neutralized with a low GI as they have simultaneous effect to blood sugar level.
GI alone doesn’t give the full information about the food, like for example, oats have higher GI than chocolate, but it doesn't immediately mean that chocolate is not healthier. GI is just an extra basis for knowing what we eat.
About low-carb diets
The recommended minimum amount of daily carbohydrates in one's diet is no lower than 130 grams. Reducing the recommended 45-65 percent of carbohydrates in the daily intake to 50 percent. Increasing protein intake leads to weight loss, but it would be the best not to reduce it under 50 percent. The aim is to consume the carbohydrates from the complex type, since it needs more energy from the body to transform into sugar, compared to the simple type. Simple type is a fast energy, the faster the body gets it, the faster it goes away, and unfortunately, the refined products usually have more added sugar. For example, a jelly bean is not more than just a simple carbohydrate. It’s not good for the body since it’s an empty calorie. It’s just calorie without any additional benefits or nutrients.
Omiting carbohydrates from one's diet is not healthy since the neurons in our brain cannot burn fat, they need glucose to be healthy. Cutting carbohydrates may suddenly and drastically cause several health effects such as headache, weakness, fatigue, and constipation.
There are many low-carb diets such as Atkins, but the researches do not extend to the long-term health benefits or side-effects.
Useful link for counting nutrition: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list
Carving carbohydrates may lead to the decrease of blood sugar level, making us feel hunger. Most carbohydrates are fast energy sources.
However, there are theories that try to find evidence for a physical addiction to carbohydrates (especially the simple type), but there are more cases when it comes as a psychical addiction when under stress or if there's a need to fill emotional gaps by letting it serve as a substituting product.