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Carbohydrates: What You must know

This scares me to death, every day you walk down the street it is becoming more and more apparent that the average person is becoming larger and this trend has escalated over recent years. Why are they getting fatter? Here are some reasons...

  • Less incidental activity
  • Automated and computerized lifestyle
  • Longer working hours and less leisure
  • Increased consumption of processed foods
  • Our food servings are larger than ever

Being overweight, or obese, has now moved from a social nuisance and domestic embarrassment to an official disease. The American Heart Association has announced obesity is a major risk for heart disease.

Obesity itself has become a major and dangerous epidemic. More than 70% of US adults are overweight and that figure is rapidly increasing.

What do most people do to rid their body of unwanted fat? They diet! Dieting is now a trillion dollar industry and just about every month a new diet is announced. If you do have weight problems how do you find a diet that is safe, effective and sustainable?

What you do is try to find a diet that includes a variety of foods that you can live with  comfortably. You have to take a long-term view and include plenty of exercise. A good diet is one that supplies all of the essential vitamins and minerals, and is not high in fat or protein.

Research on people, who have successfully lost a lot of weight and kept it off long term, shows that the vast majority succeeded by consuming a low fat diet high in fibre coupled with strength training and cardiovascular activity.

Be wary of diets that

  • Ban a specific food group
  • Promise a quick fix
  • Replace a balanced meal with a drink or a snack bar
  • Make recommendations based on single studies
  • Make recommendations to help sell a single product

Excess weight does not appear overnight and nor will it disappear overnight! In fact the faster you lose weight, the more likely you are to pile the pounds back on. Seek out a program that will help you maintain long-term body fat losses by providing attainable solutions such as a program that promotes lifestyle changes, healthy eating and regular exercise.

Regular exercise is important (i.e. strength training) as it burns fat, boosts your  metabolism and also increases your energy levels. Dietary changes can lead to initial  weight loss, but this is only for the short term. Exercise is essential for maintaining weight loss for the long term.

Now let’s take a closer look at what food is made up of and then you will have a good idea of what to look for in your daily eating plan. Firstly we need a wide range of nutrients to perform various functions for a healthy life. These nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins and fat and are all present in the food we eat on a daily basis.

The foods containing these nutrients are cereals, legumes, nuts, vegetables, fruits, milk products and flesh foods (fish, meat and poultry).

We need all these nutrients to live and thrive and since we receive them through the food we eat, our food must be well balanced and in the proper proportions. Food is a fuel; the body requires this fuel for energy, which is measured in fats, carbohydrate and protein.

Each of these nutrients provides different amounts of energy and these are measured in calories.

Nutrient Calories per Gram

Carbohydrate   4
Protein            4
Fat                 9

Let’s look at carbohydrates first, carbohydrates supply energy for our body, they provide fibre for the prevention of disease and taste and texture to food. They are found in cereals, potatoes, fruits and vegetables.

They come in two basic forms, simple and complex. Simple carbs are easily identified by their taste and are sweet. Complex carbs, such as potatoes are pleasant to the taste buds, but are not sweet.

They are then divided into two groups, high fibre and low fibre.

High-fibre foods are the healthiest choices for nutrition and the intake of these foods is associated with a lower incidence of cancer and diabetes. Carbohydrates supply the sort of calories easily burned during cardiovascular exercise.

They are often wrongly feared and considered fattening, but the most important factor in weight control is balancing the energy (calories) consumed.

Please remember:

Energy In is more than Energy Out      Weight gain
Energy In is equal to Energy Out         Weight maintenance 
Energy In is less than Energy Out        Weight loss

Different foods affect the ability to exercise at different levels. High levels of exercise  (cardio and strength training) require carbohydrate as a fuel source; at lower levels it is fat.

A lack of carbohydrate in the diet will lead to fatigue, the inability to exercise  effectively, and excess fat consumption. When our food is digested, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars.

These sugars are absorbed by the body and used by the muscles or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. As our glycogen storage capacity is limited, carbohydrate needs to be continually topped up by the foods we eat.

But the body has an unlimited storage capacity for fat!

The average person is extremely vulnerable to fad diets and extreme dieting behaviors. The low carbohydrate diet is one of the latest eating plans to hit the streets. This current diet craze is very popular but there are safer and more effective methods based on scientific research, to reduce body fat levels.

Low carbohydrate dieting is simply wrong.

Why is this? Just as a car runs better on a certain fuel, so does the human body.  Unfortunately the latest low-carbohydrate fad diets are not the fuel mix the human body was designed to run on.

Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, whereas fats contain 9 calories per gram. For weight loss, the priority is to decrease total calorie intake. Reducing the amount of fat in the diet will make the biggest difference in reducing total daily calorie intake and hence weight loss.

Carbohydrate intake is not fattening, excess calorie intake is fattening.

If you aren't having enough carbohydrates in your diet you will experience:

  • Fatigue due to low blood sugar levels inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals
  • Low fibre intake, which may affect bowel movements
  • Bad’ breath due to the breakdown products of fats (called ketones)

The bottom line for carbohydrates and weight loss is to:

  • Try to balance carbohydrate intake with activity levels
  • Maintain energy levels by eating carbohydrate rich foods on a regular basis
  • Carbohydrate rich foods are normally low in fat and nutrient-rich

A real weight loss program includes all the food groups, strength training, and low-level aerobics, a slight decrease in your daily calorie levels and a program that can be followed for life.

In conclusion try to achieve a balanced diet, eating a balanced variety of foods will help you to feel great every day, ensure better long-term health and improve weight control.

Author:

Gary Matthews is the author of the popular fitness eBooks Maximum Weight Loss and Maximum Weight Gain.

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