That is the Question!
Here is a simple definition of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are compounds containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen which are generally classified as simple sugars, complex starches and fiber. Carbohydrates are a chief source of energy for all body functions and muscular exertion. Carbohydrates also help regulate the digestion and utilization of protein and fat. (1)
When it comes to eating and picking the best diet for your exercise program, many believe that eliminating carbohydrates is the best way to go. Why? Because a lot of the new diet fads or trends have told us that eating bread, pasta and starchy foods (which is where we get our carbohydrates from) are the cause of weight gain and high sugar levels. Now, part of this can be true, but I have to break the news to you. . .it's the amount of carbs you are consuming along with how you are consuming your carbs that cause weight gain and sugar highs and/or lows.
One thing I always tell my clients when we generally discuss food intake is that your body will work effectively if you feed and use it effectively. It really is that simple. I do not believe in diet fads or popular food plans that eliminate certain dietary components to lose weight. In order to lose weight and maintain, it is important to understand how food and exercise work hand in hand for you to perform at your best daily.
Let's look at the age old example of your car. In order for your car to run effectively you have to make sure it's fueled with gas, the oil levels are in place and all the parts are maintained on a consistent basis. If not, your car starts to break down and you have small and/or big problems on your hands that can be costly. No surprise there...right? The same holds true for food. You have to feed your body with the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fat in order for your body to function each day with little or no issues.
Carbohydrates like proteins and fats are an important part of your diet. Not only does carbohydrates break down into sugar for energy expenditures but carbs are a great source of fiber as well. As you may or may not know fiber is extremely important for your digestive system, heart health and fighting off certain types of cancer. When you start to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet you are at risk of having low blood sugar levels and problems breaking down food.
In the 1900s, carbohydrate intake was actually a lot higher than it is today. Americans were not obese, they were actually very healthy and their fat intake was considerably low. Yet, in the past 20 years, carb intake has increased and obesity has been on the rise. Why? Physical Activity is at an all time low and the carbs that are being stored are not being put to use. Only 30% of Americans are getting 30 minutes of effective physical activity a day. They are using their energy expenditures properly to lose and maintain a healthy weight.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the general recommendation for carbohydrate-intake is 2.7-4.5 grams/lb daily. That would be about 45-65% of your total caloric intake, possibly more if you are an high-level athlete. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables should constitute an even higher percentage than listed above because of it's nutritional make up of B vitamins, iron and fiber.
Everyone has a different body type and health history. When it comes to weight loss and proper maintenance for you body get the facts before starting a new diet fad or workout trend. Be safe and learn as much as you can about how food can work for you and not against you.
(1) National Academy of Sports Medicine 2013