Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you know that people are in the midst of a low-carbohydrate craze! Low-carb diet books consistently top best-seller lists, food manufacturers are creating low-carb versions of familiar foods like bread and cookies, fast food chains are offering low-carb meals, and even beer companies have entered the fray with low-carb brews. Basic scientific truths, like the fact that carbs are actually important for your health, have been lost in all the marketing hoopla. Read on to find out the truth about the carbs:
How important are carbs?
If you don’t get enough, your mood, memory and sleep patterns are likely to be negatively affected, since carbs help create the brain chemical serotonin, which plays a key role in these processes. Exercise also becomes more difficult, since your muscles prefer to burn carbohydrates above all else, especially during aerobic workouts like running and cycling.
Does cutting carbs lead to weight loss?
As many people will attest to, low carb diets do help you lose weight rather quickly. But — and this is a big but — studies show that you will have most likely have given up on your diet by the end of a year, because after all, how many steak dinners can one woman take? In addition, it’s highly likely that you will eventually hit a serious plateau or put the lost weight back on. When you deprive yourself of easy fuel in the form of carbohydrates, your body begins breaking up muscle, converting muscle protein into glucose as a last resort. At first, this cannibalization of muscle mass causes you to lose water weight, but less muscle means fewer calories burned and an inevitable slowdown of your metabolism.
Which foods qualify as “low-carb”?
Good question — although there’s no clear answer. The packaging terms “low-carb” and “low net carbs” (carbs able to be digested by the body) have no official definitions, unlike, for example, the terms “low-fat” and “nonfat.” As a result, there are no rules as to what qualifies a food as low-carb. To create foods lower in carbohydrates than their regular versions, companies simply subtract fiber and sugar alcohol content, which aren’t really absorbed into the body anyway. In truth, a food said to have low net carbs often contains mthe same number of calories as its non-labeled counterpart. For example, one slice of low-carb Atkins bread has 60 calories and 8 grams of carbs, while one piece of regular “light” bread has 2 more grams of carbohydrates, but 10 fewer calories. Ultimately, it’s the number of calories you eat that affects your weight.
Does carb quality count?
The types of carbs you put into your body do make a difference for your health. The most healthful kinds are those that go through the least processing, including whole-grain foods like whole-wheat bread and pasta, oats and brown rice. These wholesome carbs have more fiber, which helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, leaves you feeling full longer, and aids in digestion. A recent study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating whole-grain carbs may protect women from developing diabetes.
What happens if you eat too many carbs?
As with any food, if you eat too much, you will gain weight. After all, weight gain occurs when you take in more calories than you expend; an excess of 3,500 calories creates one pound of fat. But in and of themselves, carbs are not fattening. They are a necessary part of your diet. If you eat healthfully and stay active, carbs will not make you fat.
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