FITNESS MYTH NUMBER 3: CARBS ARE BAD

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Today, I want to share the third of my series of fitness myths: “Carbs are bad”. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe change your perspective.

Carbohydrates have been demonised in the fitness industry for a long time. It’s been said that the consumption of carbs leads to an increase of the body fat. Although there is a physiological basis for this argument, the reality is more complex.

In my post “The three must do’s to start being healthier part 1: Eating well”, I shared some tips about what’s healthy and what’s not so healthy. Have a look at it!

Quoting the previous post, “Our body breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose, and it has a storage capacity for this glucose. If we don’t burn them with exercise, our body transforms this glucose into glycogen that is stored in our liver. When our liver capacity to store the glycogen is full, our insulin converts this glucose into fatty acids that circulate to other parts of the body and are then stored as fat in adipose tissue”.

With this information, there are mainly two conclusions: “we can eat heaps of carbs, they’re fine, we just need to move more”, or “carbs are bad, there are other types of fuel in our body without the risk of accumulating fat in adipose tissue”. Neither of these conclusions are correct. 

Did you know that fruit and vegetables also have carbohydrates? You may ask, how can it be that the base of a healthy diet is bad for you?

We absolutely can eat carbs, but we need to eat the right ones. In that post mentioned before, I also talked about the Harvard plate and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Both of these resources give us really good examples of good carbohydrates, highlighting the importance of vegetables and fruit. 

The Harvard Plate is one of my favourite resources, because it shows how your plate should look like. In my opinion, however, it’s missing some other foods, such us eggs. Eggs have also been demonised because of the presence of fat, but this is a subject for another post. 

On this plate, the vegetables and fruit dominate half of the plate, leaving the other half for HEALTHY protein and WHOLE GRAINS. I like to highlight these two terms also to my clients because I think this is key to understanding what it means to eat well. 

When the Harvard plate talks about healthy protein, it specifies “choose fish, poultry, beans and nuts”. 100g of mixed nuts contain around 20g of carbohydrates, and 100g of beans contain around 60g of carbohydrates. Not even knowing it, you’re having carbohydrates while having protein.

The problem is when we are having the bad carbohydrates. When the Harvard plate talks about whole grains, it also specifies “limit refined grains”. A whole grain has the endosperm, the bran and the germ. A refined grain has had its bran and germ removed, the part of the grain that has more vitamins and minerals, proteins, the fibre and the phytochemical, leaving only the endosperm. Refining may also involve bleaching to make it even whiter. Furthermore, and because they have removed the germ, which is the most flavorous part of the grain, sugar is added to the refined grain.

There is also another enemy of weight loss, and it’s the amount of sugar we ingest. Cakes, cupcakes, biscuits; all sweets have a high proportion of sugar. As I mentioned before, the carbohydrates that we eat are broken down into glucose. Glucose is a sugar, meaning that all those sweets that we have in our diets, add up to the amount of sugar that we digest. Don’t get tricked by other terminologies, such us fructose, sucrose, or any other word that ends with a -ose, because those are all sugars.

Additionally, don’t fall for that bad propaganda that says that eating fruit is bad and it’ll make you put on weight. Everything in excess is bad for you, even water! Nonetheless, this is not an excuse to stop eating fruit, because fruit doesn’t only have sugar, it also has essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants among other components.

Now that we have clearly defined good carbs and bad carbs, how much good carbs should we include in our diet? The answer is: it depends.

Our body uses the carbohydrates as fuel. The more you use your body, the more fuel you’ll need. An athlete’s diet will be very different from a sedentary person’s diet, and therefore, the amount of carbohydrates one should consume in one day will vary. The same happens with two people with similar levels of physical activity, but one of them works in an office and the other works in a warehouse. The amount of carbs we women need when we’re pregnant or during lactation is also very different. The best way to find out is visiting a professional. 

Sometimes, we don’t want to invest in a good nutritionist, and we’d rather spend hundreds of dollars on a fitness guru that wants to sell us the idea that the “keto diet” is the answer for losing weight or buying fat burners because another guru has posted about them on Instagram.

This ketogenic diet has been a hit. It’s based on the fact that when our body is not getting enough carbohydrates, our liver transforms fats into ketones and protein into glucose to generate the fuel instead of using the glucose from the carbohydrates. This happens because the carbohydrates, fats and proteins have very similar compositions: Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen. 

What we are actually doing is putting our body on alert mode, so it completely changes the way it normally works. 

Although this diet has been proved to help losing weight, very little it’s known about the long-term health effects. What’s more, some people follow this diet until they lose weight, and then they go back to normal, gaining this weight again plus another couple of kilograms. On top of that, ketones can cause smelly breath. Now you know why your new gym crash doesn’t smell so good!

A lack of carbohydrates can cause mood swings because carbs help the brain make a chemical that stabilises mood, the serotonin. 

Some of this information comes from a fantastic book I have discovered recently. It’s called ‘How food works’ and it’s full of great information about food in general. If you want to learn a bit more, click on the link below:

Finally, it is really important to build positive habits and a healthy relationship with food. It is not the enemy, but a tool to live a healthier life. If there is a birthday cake and someone is offering it to you, and you want to have it, it’s not something to feel guilty about. Building up these negative feelings won’t help you to achieve your goals. By filling your home with healthy foods, and making them part of your lifestyle, feel free to indulge occasionally, because you know it’s only occasionally.

I can go on and on about this subject, and it has given me a lot of inspiration for future posts!

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See you next week!

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