Carbs are not the enemy: Your ultimate guide to leveraging carbohydrates.

Homemade granola with cherries and yoghurt

Exercise Daily – It seems like everywhere you turn your head, everyone is talking smack about carbohydrates. The macronutrient has been vilified, blamed, and terrifyingly excluded from lots of trending diets and people on a weight loss journey.

The keto diets and the low-carb-high-protein diets are among the top weight loss go-to. The research backing them up says keeping a carbohydrate intake of fewer than 50 grams per day deprives the body of its first source of fuel. As a result, insulin sensitivity is increased and the body turns to alternative sources to feed off, namely ketone bodies.

Ketones are produced during fasting and carb-deprivation periods. They’re made of fatty acids existent in the body, in the liver area; hence the fat loss ability.

What tends to be overlooked and forgotten is that fat loss is achieved by maintaining a caloric deficit throughout the dieting period.

Regardless of what you eat, if your daily intake is 500 Kcal less than your recommended daily intake, you should lose about a pound a week. Which brings me to my point: high-carb diets are as effective for weight loss as the aforementioned ones.

1- What are carbohydrates

In street terms, they’re sugar. In scientific terms, they’re more than that. Carbohydrates are a macronutrient like proteins and fats. They are either simple or complex. Simple carbs are three:

– glucose (the body’s favorite and immediate source of energy),

– fructose (found in fruit),

– galactose (found in milk, paired with glucose).

Complex carbs are chains of interlinked simple carbs. They consist of:

– Starch (found in rice, legumes, pasta, etc.)

– Fiber (found in plants and whole grains)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a daily intake of 300 g of carbs (equal to 1200 Kcal) for a 2000 Kcal diet. That’s 60% of a person’s daily food consumption. There’s a correlation between the FDA’s recommendations and the importance of the macronutrient to the body.

First and foremost, as it has been mentioned earlier, it’s the body’s favorite energy provider. It goes through the process of cellular respiration to where complex carbs get broken down to glucose, which in its turn is turned into ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

Other than providing energy to use, they also provide energy to store. When the organism fulfills its needs, it stocks the excess in the liver and the muscles in the form of glycogen (chains of glucose). The reserves in the liver serve as blood-sugar regulators between meals, while the muscle reserves can only be used by the muscles. Once the liver and muscles attain full reserve capacities (around 100 g for the liver and 500 g for the muscles), the surplus is converted into fat.

A top function of carbohydrates is feeding the brain. That explains some of the discomfort, namely the Keto flu, that comes at the beginning of the Keto diet.

Fibers endorse good gut health. They’re not broken down like starches are into glucose. They pass undigested through the digestive system. They exist in two forms: soluble (nuts, seeds, some fruits and vegetables, etc.) and insoluble (whole grains, bran, and vegetables). Soluble fiber slows digestion while insoluble fiber quickens the food transition through the stomach and intestines.

The importance of carbohydrates is manifested in the disadvantages of low-carb diets and no-carb diets. Other than the previously mentioned keto flu, not having enough of them can lead to constipation, headaches, fatigue, muscle cramps, weakness, and micronutrient deficiencies (found in fruits and legumes).

2- Common misconceptions about carbohydrates

Misconceptions cost people a lot in terms of benefits and drawbacks. Sadly, word of mouth and unsupported claims are an easy meal to chew. On the bright side, studies keep boiling down the myths and laying the truth on the table.

Eat carbs, get fat: This has already been ruled out. Caloric surplus makes you put on weight.

– All carbs are bad carbs: as discussed above, carbohydrates provide the body with energy, feed the brain, and help with digestion. They also play a role in regulating blood sugar levels when consumed in moderation and increasing athletic performance. Bad carbs (candy, pastries, cookies, etc) still exist but in the form of refined grains and sugars. They’re still an energy source, although one that is stripped down of value (no vitamins, no minerals, and minimal to no fiber). You should limit their consumption to once or twice per week, to be on the safe side.

– Hard to digest: Fiber alleviates constipation. Insoluble fiber may thicken the bulk of your stool, giving you a bit of stomach trouble. Soluble fiber helps the transition of leftover from the stomach to the intestines. Pair them together and your whole digestive system is safe and healthy.

– Better eat them during breakfast: It has been adopted as a general truth that having a carb-full (in moderation of course) breakfast is a good way to start the day while decreasing the consumed amount at later times during the day. However, what matters is the time needed for the body to process them, and not the time when you consumed them. So, if you’re mostly active at night, having whole grains and legumes would be a wise decision.

– Switch carbs with protein: While protein is essential for athletes and active people trying to put on muscle, it shouldn’t reign over carbs. In fact, all three macronutrients should have the same importance in a dietary regimen. researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City found that prioritizing the consumption of protein and veggies before carbs leads to lower insulin spikes after the meal. The best approach is to calculate your daily needs and figure out the proper macronutrient ratios needed for your specific goals (weight loss, maintenance, muscle gain, etc.)

– No carbs before exercise: Eating the right carbs won’t weigh you down. In any athlete’s diet, you’d better believe that whole grains and legumes will exist at practically any meal throughout the day. It improves performance. All you have to do is distance your meal strategically, around two hours before the activity.

– Food coma: Carbohydrates are innocent of this charge. While allegations point that having a load of carbs makes you feel sluggish afterward, an animal study rejected the claim. Aside from the size of the meal, protein and salt content are other factors.

– All complex carbs are good: No, they’re not all created equal. Any food containing refined wheat and sugars cannot be good for the body. So, white bread, white pasta, pastries, cookies, cakes, french fries, etc… Are no bueno.

3- Healthy ways to include carbohydrates into a diet

After establishing that carbs are not the enemy, it is essential to develop further knowledge about how to strategically get the best out of them.

– Calculating daily macronutrients needs: Lots of factors play a role in determining the daily macronutrient needs of a person; namely: age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends the age group ranging between 26-35 to consume 2,400 Kcal for sedentary male individuals, while it recommends 2,600 Kcal and 3000 Kcal a day for moderate and intense physical activity for the same group. Caloric needs are less for women.

– Mixing simple and complex carbohydrates: Relying solely on complex carbohydrates is not the most effective dietary plan. In doing so, you risk preventing the body from certain nutrients. Fruits not only contain sugars (making a great pre-workout snack for fast energy), they are also packed with minerals and vitamins that the body needs. In other words, include fruits and milk in your daily food consumption for a well-rounded diet.

– Trying high-carb diets: No need to be surprised. It’s a 100% legit. This whole article is about changing your perspective of carbohydrates. If they’re not the villain the general public make them out to be, then high-carb diets must be as effective as other weight-loss diets. In a study published in Nutrients’ journal found that a high-carbohydrate diet can increase insulin sensitivity and induce weight loss in overweight individuals. There are new high-carbohydrate diets on the rise; The Pritikin Diet, GutButsters, and Eat More Weigh Less to name a few.

– Choosing whole grains: This is a reminder. Whole grains contain a lot more nutritional value than just energy, which is the only thing refined grains have to offer.

– Leveraging fibers: Fibers are indigested calories. Their main benefit is to promote gut health. So, eating more fiber can contribute to eating fewer calories (feeling full), and a healthy stool.

4- Healthy carbohydrate-friendly recipes

– Tunisian Ojja (dipped with whole wheat bread): This may be considered as Mediterranean meal. It’s a form of dipping sauce, but much richer. Tunisians consume it with bread, so you might want to consume it with whole wheat bread.

  • Ingredients

* 4 eggs

* 3 tomatoes

* 2 jalapenos

* ½ onion

* ½ teaspoon of minced garlic

* ½ teaspoon of black pepper

* ½ teaspoon of paprika

* 2 tablespoons of olive oil

* 1 tablespoon of tomato paste

* 200 g of meat (optional, whichever meat you prefer)

* ½ cup of water

  • Directions:
  1. drizzle the olive oil in a skillet and heat it on a low to mild temperature
  2. cut the vegetables into small pieces (tomatoes, jalapenos, and onion)
  3. add garlic, onion, and meat (optional) and mix for a 20-30 seconds
  4. add tomatoes and tomato paste to the mix
  5. Stir until the mix turns into a consistent sauce
  6. Little by little, add enough water to loosen up the mix.
  7. Add jalapenos followed with eggs and stir again.
  8. Once your eggs look cooked, turn off the stove and enjoy.

– Moroccan couscous with chicken breast: This is another Mediterranean meal. Couscous is a great alternative for rice. With a quick google search, you’ll find out that a 100 g of whole wheat couscous is 176 Kcal while plain couscous is 112 Kcal, which makes it a great source of carbohydrates with as little calorie intake as possible. There are tons of ways to make couscous. Let me show how to make this version:

  • Ingredients:

* Pre-steamed and dried couscous (Packaged couscous)

* Spices: paprika, turmeric, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and cardamom (½ teaspoon each)

* Salt and pepper (½ teaspoon each)

* 1 lb of chicken breast

* 3 tablespoons of olive oil

* 1 tablespoon of minced garlic

* ½ chopped onion

* ½ cup of Raisins

* ½ cup of Chickpeas

* 2 chopped tomatoes

* ½ cup of Kale

  • directions:

Preheat the oven on a medium temperature

  1. Combine the spices in a blend
  2. Thoroughly season the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoons of the spice blend
  3. drizzle some olive oil in a pot and put it in the oven.
  4. Once the oil is hot, add the spiced chicken breasts
  5. Leave it for 2-3 minutes. The point is not to cook it but to brown it.
  6. Set the chicken aside on a plate
  7. In the pot, add the onion and the garlic. Saute the initial mix until the garlic emits a fragrance and add the remainder of the spice blend.
  8. Blend and stir.
  9. Simultaneously, fireroast the tomatoes.
  10. Add the rest of the ingredients (Couscous, chickpeas, tomatoes, raisins, and kale) and stir.
  11. Once the mix boils, add the chicken back, and cover the pot with a lid.
  12. cook for 30 minutes, and voilà.

– Super Smoothie: People may argue whether a smoothie can be labeled a meal or not, but what’s certain is that smoothies pack as much of a nutritional punch as meals, and they can be as much filling.

  • Ingredients

* 1 banana

* dried fruits of your choice: blueberries, strawberries, apricots, dates, grapes, cherries, etc. (pick a dual or triple combination)

* 1 cup of oats

* 1 serving of protein powder

* 1 cup of unsweetened rice milk or skim milk (depending on how high you want your carbohydrate intake to be)

  • Direction
  1. In a blender, start by adding oats followed by the protein powder and the milk
  2. Blend the initial ingredients until you have a raw smoothie
  3. Add the dried fruits and blend again.
  4. Add more milk if you’re aiming for juicy smoothie. Enjoy!

– Almond butter and oat muffins: Muffins are a great desert and breakfast option. They’re tasty and can rinse off your morning hunger with their carb content. Compared to 7/11 muffins, this recipe will nourish your nutritional needs way better.

  • Ingredients

* 2 bananas

* 2 cups of oats

* 1.5 cups of milk of your choice

* 3-4 tablespoons of almond butter

* dark chocolate chips

* 2 large eggs

* ½ cup of berries

  • Directions
  1. preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix the banana, milk, almond butter, and eggs together.
  3. Pour the first mix into a second mixing bowl containing the oats and berries.
  4. Stir until the ingredients form a batter.
  5. Spray a cupcake baking tray with cooking oil and spread your batter equally
  6. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top, and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Enjoy

As you must’ve learned from this guide, carbohydrates are harmless. It’s not about whether they’re good or bad, fattening or not, but about how they’re incorporated in a day-to-day dietary regimen.

Firas Aouinet
Content Creator/Social Media Manager/bio engineering student | The Know It all, sort of

m: +216 22 32 99 22
e: [email protected]

Airport road Riadh Quarter




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