“I have been on a diet so I have eliminated carbohydrates because it is what makes you fatter ”. Who has not ever heard a phrase similar to this? Restricting certain foods is a weight loss measure, but Is it always carbohydrates that are eliminated? Is it possible to lose weight without eliminating them completely?
To begin with, it is important to know that “carbohydrates are made up of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen and that its main function provides immediate energy to living things”, Explains Katherine García Malpartida, a specialist in Endocrinology and Nutrition and member of the Nutrition Area of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN). “The carbohydrate with the greatest metabolic importance is glucose since it is the fuel par excellence of all cells ”.
In fact, according to the expert, “a balanced diet should be composed of a 50-60% of energy from carbohydrates, 30-35% of energy from fats (mainly monounsaturated fatty acids) and 10-20% of the total caloric value in the form of proteins ”. That is to say, “that carbohydrates make up the largest proportion of foods in the diet”.
It is an essential source of energy for human beings. Thus, Fran sabal, a nutritionist from the University of Valparaíso and a Master’s degree in Chronic Diseases from the University of Chile is blunt when advising “to ask for a second opinion if a health professional recommends eliminating carbohydrates from any diet.”
And it is that, as the expert indicates, “their removal can have dire consequences”. An example of this is known as “ketogenic diet, that is, when carbohydrates are strictly reduced in order to force the body into ketosis, that is, to oxidize fats and form ketogenic bodies, an alternative fuel for the brain when glucose is not available ”.
“This fuel is ketones, which we find in alcohol, for example, so this type of diet can lead to problems such as dizziness, bad breath, lack of appetite or loss of muscle, among others ”, warns the nutritionist.
For García Malpartida, “the strategy of eliminating carbohydrates from the diet it is not mandatory to develop and follow a weight loss diet”. Moreover, according to the representative of the Nutrition Area of the Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition (SEEN), “not only is it possible to lose weight by including carbohydrates in the weight loss diet but it is necessary”. Of course, as long as they are chosen “integral and of natural origin, and that they are consumed in the necessary quantities so as not to exceed ourselves,” recalls Sabal.
Which yes and which no?
The key, as in everything, is to know which are the best carbohydrates and for this, it is essential to “know the process our body goes through to convert these carbohydrates into glucose and energy”, Says Sabal.
Thus, in the case of the “processed“, That is to say, those that” are not natural “,” our body converts them into glucose very quickly, giving rise to a very high blood glucose peak “. This means that “our blood receives large amounts of sugar at the same time, causing the body to take the necessary energy at that time and try to release excess sugar quickly.” That’s when, “the fatty tissue offers to get rid of that sugar turning it into fat, which accumulates in our body” Explains Sabal in detail.
In contrast, in the case of wholegrain carbohydrates, “Its transformation in the body is more leisurely because our body you have to work harder to break down and digest those foods well and transform them into glucose ”. In this case, “the sugar is released little by little so that the body takes the necessary energy, which means that excesses are not produced very quickly and that it is not necessary to remove large amounts or convert them into fat “.
With this process, in addition, “the body is aware that it is feeding and acquiring the necessary nutrients, so we fill ourselves up, don’t feel hungry, and eat the right amounts of food”, Highlights the nutritionist.
Not just bread and pasta
In addition to the functioning of the different carbohydrates in the body, it is also important to know which foods have carbohydrates and it is that not only bread and pasta contain this nutrient, but there are many more like “fruits, vegetables, tubers, cereals, legumes, and dairy products”, Clarifies García Malpartida. And is that carbohydrates “are part of the composition of many foods.”
Based on this, it must be clear that “what we can classify as healthy is not the carbohydrate itself but the food in its entirety and depending on its composition,” says the endocrine.
According to this clarification, “the foods whose main composition are carbohydrates that we consider to be the healthiest will be those made from whole grains (not refined), with high fiber content, lacking in refined sugars, low or moderate in calories, low in salt and saturated fat ”, recalls the endocrine.
As Sara López Oliva lists, registered dietitian-nutritionist at the Professional College of Dietitians-Nutritionists of the Community of Madrid (Codinma), other foods that contain carbohydrates are:
Cereals: rice, quinoa, corn, buckwheat, teff, wheat, millet, oats, rye … with these cereals pasta, flours, bread…
Tubers: sweet potato and potato
Vegetables: peas, lentils, chickpeas, white beans … in addition, the legume also provides vegetable protein with very interesting characteristics
When is it better to take them?
Based on the above, it is clear that carbohydrates are essential to maintain balanced nutrition, but when is it better to take them?
Sabal’s answer to this question is simple: “To maintain a balance between food and obtain the necessary energy for our cells, all our meals, specifically the three main (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) must contain the four elements that are carbohydrates, healthy fats, proteins and vitamins, and minerals ”.
Of course, in all cases “they will be consumed whole because they are the ones that preserve their natural properties and those benefits to the body ”and in the right amounts since “the fact that they are healthy does not imply that they are freely consumed”, clarifies the nutritionist.
With all this information, the first step to achieve a healthy diet and lose weight with health and little by little is to “replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains and consume the whole fruit and not in the form of juices or smoothies”. Another tip from Sabel is to “adjust the ideal portions for each person.”
The most important thing in all this is “to feel comfortable and happy because if we do it from the restriction and suffering, in the end those changes will not be completed and we will return to business as usual,” he warns. “If it is necessary to slow down, nothing happens, everything will come, you cannot change a habit of years in a matter of days,” reports the nutritionist.
Carbohydrates and sugars, are they the same?
So could we say that carbohydrates and sugars are the same? According to García Malpartida, “we could say that all sugars are carbohydrates, but not all carbohydrates are sugars.”
Carbohydrates “are classified according to the number of molecules that compose them into monosaccharides (a molecule, for example, glucose), disaccharides (two molecules, for example, sucrose), oligosaccharides (3 to 9 molecules) and polysaccharides (more than 10 molecules, for example, starch). Sugars are mono or disaccharides, while polysaccharides are also called complex carbohydrates “, details the endocrine.
As López-Oliva explains, “table or added sugar is a type of carbohydrate that should not be part of our diet since, although it is very palatable, it provides short-term energy without essential nutrients, which is known as empty calories ”.
In this sense, it is important to bear in mind that sugar is usually consumed alone but also added to many products such as dairy desserts, cookies, pastries, soft drinks, ice cream… “These foods should not be part of anyone’s regular diet and, although we must be flexible, this is not an essential component of any diet.”
Healthy dishes with carbohydrates
From the SEEN, García Marpartida offers examples of healthy dishes that include carbohydrates to incorporate into the diet:
- Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and fish.
- Brown Rice With Vegetables.
- Whole wheat bread with vegetables and lean meat.
- Lentils / chickpeas / beans with vegetables.
- Mixed salad with natural tuna and hard-boiled egg.
- Vegetables sautéed with extra virgin olive oil.
- Tomato, cucumber, pepper, and onion gazpacho.
For his part, López-Oliva offers other suggestions:
Chickpea salad with assorted vegetables (lettuce, tomato, pepper, carrot, radishes …)
Vegetable salad with quinoa, salmon, and sesame
Brown rice with vegetables, turmeric, and chicken
Whole wheat pasta with asparagus and grilled turkey strips
Roast chicken with potato and vegetables
Brown rice with homemade ratatouille and grilled egg