Essentials of Nutrition Series: Carbohydrates

Posted March 26, 2010 by

In continuing our discussion of the three macronutrients contained in food (protein, carbohydrates and fat), we’ll now move on to carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the preferred form of macronutrients for conversion to glucose and glycogen, the two forms of sugar that our bodies use for immediate energy and stored energy, respectively. Since all carbohydrates are made up of one or more units of sugar, it makes sense that they would be the most efficient macronutrient to be used for this purpose.

Carbohydrates are probably the most-misunderstood macronutrient out of the three, in part because they have been unfairly demonized by “low carb” fad diets such as the Atkins, Zone and Go Lower diets. Proponents of these diets tend to ignore the benefits of carbohydrates and instead focus on the fact that eliminating carbohydrates from ones diet will often cause rapid weight loss. However, this weight loss can be attributed to water weight (carbohydrate consumption cause your muscles to draw in water along with the glucose) and muscle loss more often than from fat loss, which explains why rebound weight-gain almost always follow when one goes off of the diet. In addition to being unsustainable, “low-carb” dieters typically experience a severe drop in energy (which makes sense since carbohydrates are the primary source of energy) and often do not meet their daily fiber requirements, since fiber is usually found in carbohydrate-rich foods.

Our goal should be to practice nutritional methods that are healthy and sustainable over the long-term, not to seek immediate but counterproductive results. Thus, carbohydrates, in moderation, should be embraced, not alienated. Total caloric intake is the main determining factor in weight loss, not the inclusion or exclusion of one or more of the macronutrients. What I mean is, the number of calories you’re eating is more important than what kind of food those calories are coming from.

If you consider the energy you’ll enjoy from carbohydrates, in addition to the digestive and weight-management benefits you’ll get from fiber, it should be more clear why it is important to get a healthy amount of carbohydrates in your diet, regardless of your fitness goals.

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