Friday, January 18, 2013

Carbs, Why Your Body Stores and Uses Them, and All That Jazz...

You may have memories of your parents telling you you could not have dessert after a certain hour, and if you don't have kids yet, you may not understand why. Well, as always, I'll tell you :)

First off, you have to have a basic understanding of how the body processes food - and when I say food, I mean the major groups of food, i.e. carbohydrates, protein, and fat. But since that is heavy material, let's focus on how the body processes carbohydrates, since sugars are carbs. 

Each gram of carbs contains about 4 calories (compared to 9 calories per gram in fat). Doesn't sound too bad, huh? But carbs are your body's major source of energy. In fact, 45 - 65% of your body's energy should come from carbs. So no matter what you hear, carbs are not the enemy. Processed carbs are. Why?

There are two major types of carbs: Simple and Complex. Simple carbs are mostly things like fruit juices, processed food, and other sweet food. Complex carbs are things like whole grain, potatoes, and other unprocessed food. Why does the type of carbohydrate matter? Because it dictates how quickly your body processes it. Simple carbs contain one or two simple sugars: glucose, fructose, and galactose (Your high school Biology is coming back to you now, isn't it?). Complex carbs contain three or more sugars.

When you digest carbohydrates, your body converts it to glucose in the blood to be used by the body. Excess glucose is converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver. Anything excess above what the body needs in those organs is stored as fat. 

When the body senses that your blood glucose levels are low, it taps into the liver glycogen storage and converts that to glucose for emergency use. When even that reserve is gone, the body starts converting other non-carb sources to glucose for emergency purposes. The kicker is that the body finds that it needs a lot of water to continuously do this, and then you lose 'water weight'. So losing water weight really is dehydration. All the fad dieters, please note this. This is why you lose tons of weight initially.

Of course if the body rushes into emergency mode when you have little glucose, it also does the same things when you have too much. So remember how we talked about simple carbs above? Since simple carbs contain one or two simple sugars, the body digests them really quickly and converts them to glucose fast. And then your blood is left with the overload of glucose. So your mum had good intentions when she was feeding you 'Glucose' when you were sick. But what does your liver do then? It signals your pancreas to release insulin to force the levels of glucose down, but because your blood has too much, the insulin overdoes its job. Too much glucose is quickly converted to glycogen and stored in the liver, and the rest is stored as fat. This is why you go from a sugar high to a crash in such a short time. This is why you go from happy to zero after those cookies.

So why are complex carbs better? Because it takes your body longer to digest them, and so the glucose is slowly released into the blood. Your body sees this as normal. It doesn't mean that you should eat as many carbs as you like though. At some point, your body will have enough energy to carry it through, and then the excess is still converted to glycogen and stored in the liver. Anything beyond that is stored as fat.

See why eating simple sugars is not sustainable for a healthy diet? Consider eating brown rice instead of white processed rice more frequently, or consider eating whole potatoes instead of mashing them with lots of margarine. Making better choices when you select carbs is very important in sustaining your body fat and your energy levels.

Cheers Eights & Weights!

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