One of the most
popular New Year’s resolutions (I wonder how many of us still think about New Year resolutions) is weight loss.
It’s also one of the trendiest terms these days. The hottest trend is the low-carb
diet. This is because carbs, or carbohydrates, are easily converted to fats in
fat (adipose tissue). In fact, it is easier to convert carbs to fat than it is
to transport fat ingested via food into fat tissue. This is because the body prefers
to burn fat from our diet for energy than to store it in fat tissue as fat.
THE SCIENCE OF CARBS
The main reason for this is Insulin. When we consume carbs, insulin is released. By stimulating its own receptors on fat cells, it causes the accumulation of more carb transport channels in the membranes of fat cells. This, in turn, causes more carbs to enter the fat cell, where it is quickly converted into fat. So basically, thanks to Insulin, it is very easy to transport carbs into fat cells and to convert these carbs into fat.
“BAD” CARBS: SIMPLE CARBSSo what’s the catch? In practice, this only applies to what are called simple carbs. Simple carbs are:
- single molecule carbohydrates like glucose or fructose
- simple sugar, which is a glucose and a fructose molecule combined and found in sodas and other sweets
- short straight chain carbohydrates, which is a straight short chain of glucose molecules found in white bread, white pasta or white rice
Simple carbs are easily digested into single glucose molecules in our intestines and then quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Because they cause a sharp and quick spike in blood levels, they also cause insulin to be realised in this same fashion. This causes what are called “insulin spikes”. These insulin spikes are what cause all carbs to be quickly transported into fat cells to be converted into fat. These spikes also cause a decrease of the number of insulin receptors on fat cells and muscle cells, eventually leading to insulin resistance and Diabetes Mellitus type 2 ( which is the epidemic we are currently facing).
simple carbs are bad for you because: they make you fat; they lead to visceral
fat accumulation (the fat inside the belly that pushes the belly out and which
is linked to cardio-vascular disease); and they lead to type 2 diabetes; which
eventually causes atherosclerotic plaques in arteries leading to heart attacks,
strokes, kidney damage, blindness and peripheral vascular disease.
“GOOD” CARBS: COMPLEX CARBS
However, (and this is a big however), carbs are still the best energy source for the brain and muscles. If someone is serious about weight loss, they must incorporate some kind of an exercise plan. Otherwise, to lose weight, you would have to starve yourself in order to achieve your objective. Such starvation causes excessive stress to the body, irritability, sleep disturbances, and is generally not healthy. Some may argue that instead of carbs we can provide medium chain fatty acids (like from coconut oil) or other healthy oils to provide the energy needs of the brain and muscles. But this only goes so far. In order to exercise, you need more energy. So in order to exercise to lose weight, you need energy from carbs to give you the energy needed for the exercise. So how can we solve this dilemma? With complex carbs.
Complex carbs are called complex because they are branched. The single glucose molecules are not aligned in single line, rather they branch in many directions. This slows down the digestion of complex carbs, causing a slower rate of absorption into the bloodstream. As a consequence, a smaller amount of insulin is released at a steady rate. The result of this is that fewer carbs are transported into fat cells to form fat. On flip side, more carbs are absorbed into muscles for energy and into the liver to be stored as glycogen (an energy store utilized during exercise), and more carbs are absorbed by brain cells for their energy needs. This more gradual insulin release does not lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
So if you are serious about weight loss, do it the healthy way —not through starvation. Starvation causes the release of cortisol — the stress hormone— which is not healthy. Strive to incorporate a low intensity cardio exercise program by which you can burn at least 400 calories each day. Consume mainly lean protein sources and lots of vegetables but eat small portions and complex carbs. They will not lead to fat production, but will give you the energy to burn those 400 calories.