“Anything in excess is opposed to nature.” – Hippocrates
Eating a surplus of calories will make you gain weight.
Anyone who is truly concerned about their health should know about calories. Put simply, a calorie is a measure of energy that we get from food. Calories fuel metabolic processes inside our cells; therefore, calories fuel life itself.
Caloric components found in food are called macronutrients including carbohydrates (4 calories per gram), proteins (4 calories per gram), and fats (9 calories per gram). Although non-essential, alcohol (7 calories per gram) also contains calories that are similarly processed as fats.
In general, the public can have two issues about macronutrients. Firstly, individuals may consume too little calories and may develop what is called energy undernutrition. Oppositely, individuals may overconsume calories and become overweight or obese which increases their risk for many common lifestyle diseases.
So what are the basic things that you should know about managing your calories?
- Our bodies need energy daily (1) for vital cellular activities, (2) for food digestion and absorption, and (3) for physical activity. If you have a fairly sedentary lifestyle, watch out for high calorie food items and plan adding 30 minutes of exercise to your daily routines.
- Calories, when taken in excess of what you need regardless of source, are stored by the body as glycogen and fats. Watch out for the total calorie intake per day.
- Foods known as empty calories must be eaten in moderation because they provide little to no micronutrients that regulate and support metabolism.
One of the best educational tools you can follow for the maintenance of health in general is the food pyramid. It tells us to consume those foods at the bottom more frequently, and practice more control with the foods higher on the pyramid.
And what are those foods at the bottom? Vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and tofu, all of which are great sources of carbohydrates.
Why are some groups of people advocating for the removal of carbohydrates from the diet?
Simple. It is easier and quicker to tell someone that carbs are bad for you, than to provide a factual and comprehensive explanation about what carbohydrates really do for the body.
It also takes the least effort to put your hopes on the concept of blaming carbohydrates for all your health woes. In truth, this is cheap advice when what you really need is (1) factual information, (2) a change in mindset, and (3) sustainable lifestyle modification.
Scientifically, if you regularly eat a surplus amount of calories, regardless of source, then you will definitely gain weight and be at risk for many lifestyle diseases.
So yes, carbs can make you fat – specially and specifically these types of carbs: Juices. Soft drinks. Candies. Fast food. Pastries. Cookies. Cakes.
These are called simple or refined carbohydrates. They are so packed with pure sugars – as well as fats and preservatives – which are readily absorbed into the bloodstream. They cause powerful spikes in blood glucose which tips the balance inside your body and causes the cells to react in frenzy.
Can you imagine someone annoyingly poking you and demanding you to react multiple times a day? That’s what you do to your cells when you eat these foods frequently. This chronic stress caused by high blood glucose levels increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and their complications such as blindness, infertility, and some cancers.
Not only that, but because they are so packed with calories that you probably do not need, you are on your way to becoming overweight or obese.
And yes, our bodies need carbohydrates. In fact, it is the preferred fuel of our cells – you’ll know this by studying the Krebs Cycle which is a basic concept in human biology.
Good-for-you carbs are called complex carbohydrates. Many of them contain fiber, vitamins and minerals. Their naturally complex chemical structures allow for slower digestion. This means that they are gradually absorbed into the bloodstream so that there are no abrupt spikes in blood glucose levels.
These better carbohydrates are also called whole foods which have undergone little to no processing. And that’s a big deal! Food processing can take away nutrients, and add nasty additives such as salts, sugars, fats, and chemical preservatives. Yikes!
So what are my favorite good carbs, you might ask?
First, there is rice – of course. I use white rice for meals that have lots of vegetables, and I use multigrain rice – a mixture of brown, red, and black rice – for meals that have less. I also like other grains, such as oats and corn, and wheat products such as pasta and couscous.
I’m a big fan of starchy root and tuber crops such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, taro and cassava. Baked skin-on potatoes are my thing. Baked right, it’s got that crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside thing going and is flexible with many dishes. They are also rich in valuable minerals that help with enzyme metabolism, nerve function, and muscle contraction.
I also like nuts and legumes that are very good sources of starch, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. I love using cashews, walnuts and pistachios in my baked goods and granola. While I use different types of beans – chickpeas are my favorite – for tacos, dips and stews.
And last but not the least, the most colorful of all the good carbs, are fruits and vegetables! I plan my meals to include a variety of vegetables. Other than the colon-sweeping benefits, different colors in fruits and vegetables mean different bioactive phytonutrients that have both protective and restorative effects at the cellular level.
Carbohydrates are an important component of the human diet. It supplies our cells with energy needed for daily metabolism, digestion, physical activity, and recovery. And good carbs also provide us with beneficial fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help to regulate the body, and manage disease and aging.
What you’ve learned here today is an amazing start! You’ve seen an overview about calories and carbohydrates. So the next time that a friend posts about avoiding all carbs, OR WORSE, trying out the keto diet, share this with them and let us help each other in building good nutrition for the nation.