Carbohydrates – what have you done for me lately ooh oooh ooh yeah?
Ever since the Atkins craze it seems like carbohydrates just can’t get a break. I have friends who tell me they are watching their carbs. When I ask why, they simply reply they want to lose weight and comment that they don’t need to eat as much as I do since I’m a runner.
When we think of carbohydrates most of us instantly think of breads, pasta, sugar and refined products. But do you ever think of fruit and vegetables?
Runner, athlete, weekend warrior, or domestic goddess YOU need carbohydrates. Instead of focusing on why carbs are bad for you, as anything in excess is, let’s focus on the positive and the three things carbohydrates do for us.
Energy fuels our metabolism and carbohydrates are the gasoline to our bodies. They provide the fuel for our body to work. When we are active our body depends on glucose and glycogen, the stored form of glucose in our liver and muscles. When we deplete those stores our muscles become fatigued.
But what about fat and protein? Yes, they also provide energy — when converted to glucose. Protein yields the same amount of energy per gram as carbohydrates (4kcal per gram) and fat yields even more (9kcal per gram). However, carbohydrates are needed to help metabolize fat!
Have you ever gotten that shaky feeling? That feeling of listlessness and irritation when you suddenly realize you need to eat and EAT NOW? And when you are faced with a decision you just can’t make up you mind so you eat anything you can get your hands on?
This is your brain without glucose. Glucose is the primary energy source for our brain and nervous system.
“Because neurons cannot store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply of this precious fuel.” – The Franklin Institute Resources for Science Learning
Glucose is so important to our brain and nervous system that they take about half of the total glucose used each day. And of the total energy our body uses when resting, 25% of that is spent by the brain.
Overall health – fighting machine
Not only do carbohydrates provide fuel for our bodies, but they also give us phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds found in plant derived foods that give us taste, color and other characteristics. In our bodies, phytochemicals may act as antioxidants and offer other healthy benefits. For instance, flavonoids (a phytochemical) acting as an antioxidants may help reduce inflammation. Flavonoid containing carbohydrates include berries, citrus fruits and whole grains.
How about tannins? Yes, they are a phytochemical and also act as an antioxidant. Tannins may be found in black-eyed peas, lentils and wine.
Carbohydrates are important for overall health. They provide energy, feed our brain and nervous system and provide those fight-o-chemicals. So if you are monitoring your caloric intake to lose weight, choose carbs that are whole grain and full of fiber such as beans, vegetables and fruit. They’ll leave you feeling full and fueled.