the mystery of carbohydrates

Whether you have a love or hate relationship with carbohydrates, the word itself can invoke an emotional response of some kind in most of us.   We have been told that they are good, bad, or just plain ugly. So what is actually true?

Let’s break it down

Without going into too much detail, carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules.  When you ingest a carbohydrate, those molecules are broken down and ultimately turned into glucose, aka sugar. Those little glucose molecules are shuttled through your cells (more specifically the mitochondria) and ATP (energy) is formed.

Carbs are primarily energy; think of them as fuel that powers your body. Some carbohydrates are converted to glucose very quickly, while some sources are converted much slower.  And the glucose that is created can be used immediately for energy or it can be stored for future use, as something called glycogen. However, storage capacity is limited.  If glycogen stores are full, and sugar isn’t used, the body can convert the extra sugar into fat.  Uh oh, maybe that is where the hate relationship with carbs stems from?

This leads to some big issues with something called insulin. Even though glucose is essential, insulin problems can arise when we have too much of it in our system. Once glucose enters your bloodstream, it triggers your pancreas to release the hormone insulin. The role of insulin is to signal to the cell to open and let glucose in so it can use it for energy.  The amount of insulin released is dependent on the amount of sugar in the blood. Over time, if excessive amounts of insulin are released regularly, our body develops a degree of tolerance or resistance to its affects and we lose our natural responsiveness to it.  This can lead to conditions later on such as hypoglycemia and diabetes type II. So it can all come down to the type of carbohydrates you are eating and how much of them you are eating.


Breaking it down even further

Wheat, bread, milk and eggsNow we can see that although carbohydrates are essential for fuelling our bodies, the truth is that they are not all created equal. And another truth is, that everyone has different requirements for quantity of carbs based on metabolism and activity level.  The best plan is to stick with carbohydrates that are unrefined, consuming both simple and complex carbohydrates.  The best forms to include in your diet are whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, millet, teff and amaranth; fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas) and foods such as sweet potatoes, yams and squashes. These whole foods are filled with nutrients and fiber, which helps slow down the release of the sugar into the blood stream, helping maintain a balanced blood sugar, and giving sustained levels of energy.

Stay away from refined carbs and sugars such as white rice, white bread, white pasta and the white menace known as white sugar.  These go directly into your blood stream causing a spike in blood sugar, messing with your blood sugar levels and causing those 3pm crashes and cravings. They are also void of essential nutrients and fiber. It has been said before and it can’t be more true; fats (the good kind) don’t make you fat, the wrong types of carbohydrates do.

Give your body the right kind and the right amount of carbohydrates and you will feel energized, maintain a healthy weight and feel great!


Tracy Thiessen 

TracyTracy Thiessen is a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, C.H.N.C.™.  Her interest in nutrition started at a young age, when she learned how to prepare meals but also began to question what was in the foods she ate.  Her curiosity and interest continued after seeing major improvements in her own health after modifying her diet and altering her lifestyle, which led her to study Nutrition.

Leave a Reply