Weight Loss and Carbohydrates – Ending the Confusion

complex carbohydratesIf you’re like many people these days, you might be confused about carbohydrates.  Questions come to mind like, are carbohydrates good or bad for you, will carbohydrates make you gain weight, and what about carbohydrates for athletic people?

Carbohydrates are not all created alike and in order to understand how and when to fit them into our daily diets, it is crucial to understand what happens within our bodies when we consume them.  Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your body, especially for muscle, brain and central nervous system functions.  In the body, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose.  Once in the bloodstream, glucose is taken up by the cells and used for fuel, stored in the liver or muscle as glycogen, or converted to fat for later use.

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials by now, the ones that say the secret to effective fat loss is the glycemic index.  The glycemic index classifies foods, showing the rate at which a carbohydrate breaks down into sugar or glucose in the bloodstream.  High glycemic foods (71-100gi) are considered fast acting because they release glucose into the bloodstream quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar.  This in turn signals the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that removes excess sugar from the bloodstream and signals the body to store fat.  Low to moderate glycemic foods (0-70) release glucose into the bloodstream slowly and provide the brain and body with prolonged and constant energy.

And what about low-carb diets?  Low-carbohydrate diets serve a specific purpose for a distinct portion of the population.  They were devised to help overweight and obese people lose body mass in order to improve their health.  They were not targeting the active, athletic community.  One of the goals of the low-carb diet is to chronically deprive the body of carbohydrates.  If you’ve ever been on this type of diet and tried to complete your work-out successfully but were unable, it was most likely because your energy stores were depleted and unable to train effectively.

So how and when should you eat carbohydrates?  The best way to eat carbohydrates is with a protein and it’s naturally occurring fat content.  When proteins and fats are eaten with high or moderate glycemic foods, they slow down absorption of the carbohydrates and therefore help prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, thus reducing the odds of fat storage.  For example, a baked potato (high gi) eaten with a piece of chicken, fish or lean steak is great.

So how do you lose body fat yet still have enough energy for your work outs and an active schedule?  The key is to have the right kinds of carbs at the right times because carbs are energy and if you don’t burn the energy, the excess will be stored as fat.  Stick with moderate or low-glycemic index carbohydrates, and only have enough to fuel your day’s activities and workouts.  Have the majority of your carbohydrates early in the day and then taper them into the afternoon.  If you are exercising, especially doing weight resistance exercise, make sure you have eaten within 90 minutes of your workout and your pre-workout meal includes some protein and carbohydrates. The best post workout recovery meal/snack is in liquid form – think smoothie or shake – with 2:1 carb/protein ratio.  There are limited times when it is suggested that you consume simple carbohydrates –  first thing in the morning after a night of fasting (sleeping) and  following a weight training workout.  At this time, your body is severely depleted of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and glucose.  Having simple carbs after a tough workout will allow you to avoid muscle breakdown by having the correct post workout recovery meal.

So there you have it; no more confusion about weight loss and carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates provide the body with important nutrients that are quickly converted to energy.  Consume the right kind of carbs at the right times and you will reach your weight loss goals.



Weight Management and the Glycemic Index

weight loss and glycemic indexThere’s a common phrase going around lately and you may have heard it. Even popular weight loss programs have jumped on the bandwagon and tout it as the secret to weight loss.  What they are referring to is the Glycemic Index.

So what is it?

The glycemic index consists of a scale from 1 to 100, indicating the rate at which 50 grams of carbohydrate in a particular food is absorbed into the bloodstream as blood-sugar. Glucose itself is used as the main reference point and is rated 100. Foods with a high GI behave differently in our bodies and those that are rapidly digested and absorbed result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Although the glycemic index was invented originally to help diabetes patients manage their blood-sugar levels, dietitians and weight experts now use it as a tool to treat obesity, reduce cravings and appetite swings, and improve eating habits.

High, Intermediate and Low Glycemic Index Foods

The glycemic index separates carbohydrate-containing foods into three general categories: High GI – 70 or more, cause a rapid rise in blood-glucose levels. Intermediate GI 55-69 – causing a medium rise in blood-glucose and Low GI – 54 or less, causing a slower rise in blood-sugar.  One thing to keep in mind is that you can lower the GI of a food by combining it with a protein or fat.  Both protein and/or fat combined with a high GI food will solicit a lower insulin response in the body, most times reducing it to that of a moderate GI food.

Benefits of Low GI Foods

Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low GI diets have been shown to improve both glucose and lipid levels (fat) in people with Type1 & Type 2 Diabetes.  Low-GI foods have benefits for weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. Low GI diets also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance.  Choosing low GI carbs – the ones that produce only small fluctuations in our blood glucose and insulin levels – is the secret to long-term health, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes and is the key to sustainable weight loss.

Eating mainly low GI carbohydrates slows the release of glucose into your blood stream, keeping your energy levels balanced, and blood sugar levels low.  This means you will feel fuller for longer between meals and avoid sugar highs and lows.  Other benefits include: Weight loss and weight control, increased insulin sensitivity, improves diabetes control, reduces the risk of heart disease, reduces blood cholesterol levels, reduces hunger, keeps you fuller longer, prolongs physical endurance and re-fuels carbohydrate stores after exercise.

The easiest way to eat more Low Glycemic carbohydrates is to simply switch your high GI carbohydrates for lower ones.  For example, eat breakfast cereals based on oats, whole grains and bran.  Choose breads made from whole grains, stone-ground flour and other natural grains. Also, reduce your consumption of white potatoes, white rice and white pastas and choose wild, brown, or basmati rice, whole wheat, vegetable, brown rice pasta and other noodles cooked “al dente”.  Enjoy all types of fruit and vegetables and avoid all products with high fructose corn syrup, such as salad dressing, sweetened drinks, and processed foods.  Soon you will be enjoying all the benefits a Low-Glycemic and Moderate Glycemic diet provides.