Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients from which the human body can obtain energy, the other two being fats and proteins. They serve as a primary source of fuel for most metabolic activities and prevent the protein from being used as an energy source.
Carbohydrates are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, bread, Indian breads (like chapati), and dairy products, among others, and upon digestion, are converted into glucose, a sugar which the human body can burn immediately or store away.
Over the last few years, the essence of carbohydrates has been questioned by many people; this is because of fad diets that present these essential macronutrients as undesirable for one’s health. However, in reality, they are extremely necessary for the proper functioning of the human body and so, eliminating them from your diet entirely can have some unpleasant side-effects such as hypoglycemia among others.
(Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar causes weakness, shakiness and loss of consciousness, when mild, but grave cases can result in seizures or death.)
Part of the controversy surrounding carbohydrates stems from the fact that there are two main types:
• Whole Carbs, that are natural and unprocessed, containing large amounts of fibre;
• And Refined Carbs, that are processed and have had their natural fibre stripped away.
While Whole Carbs, which include potatoes, whole grains, and fruit, are perfectly healthy; Refined Carbs, which are found in foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, white bread, pastries, white rice, can cause serious health issues when consumed in large amounts. This is especially because they are packed with calories, but lack essential nutrients.
Here are some of the benefits of including Whole Carbohydrates in your diet:
Preventing Weight Gain:
Evidence suggests that whole grains and dietary fibre help protect against obesity for the simple fact that they can satiate one’s hunger without containing too many calories. Fibre is slow to digest, meaning a high-fibre meal reduces your hunger pangs for a considerable period while absorbing water in the stomach and intestines.
As a result, carbohydrate-rich meals are ideal for any weight-loss regimen, regardless of what practitioners of fad diets suggest.
Low blood sugar levels can cause feelings of melancholy and lethargy in the human body and for long have been suspected as a cause for depression and other related mental disorders.
Carbohydrates help prevent this problem by stimulating the release of serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters that aids in regulating one’s mood.
Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease:
Research has found that whole grains and dietary fibre from whole foods help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This is because they boost blood lipid values by reducing levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or bad cholesterol) and triglyceride. High circulating levels of these lipids greatly increase the odds of contracting atherosclerotic diseases, which can cause serious heart problems.
Complex Carbohydrates are rich in insoluble fibre, which makes them extremely beneficial to intestinal health. This is because roughage helps food and waste material through the body, unobstructed. They also absorb water in the intestine, which prevents constipation and minimises the odds of colon cancer by reducing the amount of time bowel waste spends near intestinal cells.
Reduces the Effects of Aging:
Cutting out a vital macro-nutrient from your diet, whether it’s a protein, fat, or carbohydrate, as different fad diets would prescribe, is ill-advised. The key to a healthy life is to strike a balance between the various food groups and make sure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs. For this reason, carbohydrates will always play a vital and delicious role in our diets.
Keep these quick tips in mind to incorporate carbohydrates effectively into your diet:
•Emphasise fibre-rich fruits and vegetables
•Choose whole grains
•Stick to low-fat dairy products
•Consume more legumes
•Limit the consumption of sugar
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(Written by Trupti Jagtap. Edited by Shruti Singhal)