This is probably one of my most asked questions, and my answer is… ‘Carbs (Carbohydrates) do not make you fat!’ No one food group will make you fat.
What I would like to try and explain in this blog is the problems with carbs and why a diet high in starchy, processed and sugary carbs can lead to problems and fat deposits around our bodies.
At some point in our lives we have all unfortunately caught a bug and got sick, whether we’ve eaten something dodgy or been exposed to a germy environment, or even drunk alcohol to excess, we have all had that horrible moment where we’ve had our heads down the toilet coupled with a day or 2 or even 3 where we haven’t been able to eat.
These are bad times and can you remember the feeling of not eating for several days? You feel exceptionally weak, your arms feel heavy, walking around feels enormously hard, and you feel dizzy and lethargic. Even when the bug is gone it can take a week to get yourself feeling normal again.
What has happened? You haven’t eaten for several days and your muscles are extremely depleted of glycogen and your body is struggling to find the energy to move and even think clearly.
When we consume carbohydrates our bodies turn these lovely carbs into glycogen which in turn is sent to our muscles and organs and even our brain to use as fuel (energy). This process happens for all foods that contain carbohydrates, bread, chocolate, pasta, bananas, apples, potato’s, cakes, pizza etc…. So every time you eat something that contains carbs your body will convert these carbs into glycogen and try and store this glycogen in your muscles for use later. So as you can see we need carbs, they are fundamental to our living and functioning properly. Without them we will quickly become weak, tired and wont be able to even think clearly.
Not all foods that contain carbohydrates are equal, there are different types of carbs, simple and complex and there is something called the Glycemic Index (GI) which is basically a chart describing how fast the sugars from different foods will enter the blood stream. This is very useful knowledge if you are diabetic or an endurance athlete or even trying to lose weight. I’ll talk about the Glycemic index and how useful it is in another blog.
So carbs give us energy to be able to perform in life, You may come to the conclusion that if you eat tons of carbs you’ll have loads of energy and feel strong and alert all day. (many people have had this belief and ‘Carb Loading’ was a fashionable pass time by many a marathon runner or long distance cyclist up until quite recently) Unfortunately, as for most things in life things aren’t quite so simple. The problem is our muscles can only absorb and carry a finite amount of glycogen, and this equates to less than 1500 calories for even the most muscular person.
So lets say it’s Monday morning, on Sunday you had a busy day you spent the day with family, which included a nice walk at the beach, you were really tired Sunday night so went to bed quite early and only ate a small evening meal. Monday morning you are nicely depleted in glycogen. After your usual hit of coffee you have some jammy toast, you are feeling particularly hungry today so a mid morning snack on some cakes and biscuits, followed by an early lunch as your body is saying please fill me up I’m starving and you may still be depleted of glycogen. Several rounds of sandwiches some crisps, a yogurt and a nasty fizzy drink, you have now most likely filled all your muscles up with glycogen.
So what happens now it’s only midday, well your lovely liver has been working overtime producing insulin to get all those sugars out of your blood and into your muscles, but now all your muscles are saturated with glycogen where will it go? Well it can’t stay in your blood, that is really bad news, all that sugar will start to thicken your blood like soup and would eventually kill you. Luckily our bodies are generally quite good at keeping us alive so the glycogen returns to the liver and through some magical process the liver now turns all those lovely sugars into fat and goes about depositing this fat throughout our bodies.
Now the other problem here is your body has now kick started the process of producing and storing fat so any more fat entering the blood stream will be easily stored. So to conclude this little blog carbs will not make you fat, you need them, but too many carbs and your body will start to turn them into fat and also speed up the process of storing other fats.
Luckily there are plenty of ways we can get around this problem and it is a big problem as the majority of fast food, processed foods and the food we pretty much all call ‘Junk’ food tends to be predominantly very high in carbohydrates. but I’ll discuss this another day.