While we all know that carbohydrates give us energy, many people think of it as fattening and unhealthy. As a result many people strike carbohydrates off the diet plan, and or go on a low-carbohydrate diet. Studies have also highlighted several benefits of going on a low-carbohydrate diet.
Benefits of carbohydrates
When we consume carbohydrates, the enzyme ‘amylase’ converts them into glucose, the primary fuel that the body uses to power cellular activity. The heart, brain, kidneys and muscles need carbohydrates to function. Excess carbohydrates can be stored in the liver and muscles for later use, after being converted into glycogen. It is also a good source of fibre and aids weight control.
Carbohydrates are also necessary to ensure brain health is at its best and that proteins don’t have to double up as a source of energy. Carbohydrates are an important source of instant energy, and contribute to the body’s energy reserves. The only source of fuel for the brain is glucose, and every ounce of carbohydrate is eventually simplified into glucose. Carbohydrates spare proteins from being utilised wrongly for energy, as opposed to its original function which is muscle building.
Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are divided into simple and complex carbs. Simple carbohydrates (sugar, jaggery, honey or maida) bring about a quick rise in blood sugar levels as compared to complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, brown rice or sweet potato) which are unprocessed and rich in fibre. A complex form of carbohydrates brings about a delayed and gradual rise in the blood sugar levels after it is digested.
The key to get the most benefit from carbohydrates is to ensure that you eat the right kind of carbohydrate and in a moderate quantity. Serious complications can develop if the body is deprived of adequate carbohydrates for a prolonged duration. For example, the body might begin to break down muscle tissue to act as fuel. As the levels of ketones rise in the bloodstream, blood can become acidic, placing stress on your kidneys and other organs.
For diabetics, the lack of complex carbohydrates can cause episodes of hypoglycemia and more sick days.
Here are some signs that indicate a lack in carbohydrates:
- Weakness in the body: If you make a transition from a carbohydrate heavy diet to a low-carb diet, the body needs to adjust to the change. In the process you may feel low on energy. Low-carb diets cause lack of energy because carbohydrates play a role in the burning of fats, which produce energy. Lack of energy can cause dizziness, nausea, headaches and fatigue. This weakness can also be reflected in the thinning of limbs (muscle mass breakdown), hairfall, skin damage and compromised immunity.
- Bad breath: Low-carb diets often lead to incomplete burning of fats to produce energy in the body, which causes more ketones to be produced. Excessive ketones in the body come out through the urine and saliva. This causes bad breath among people on low-carb diets.
- Constipation: Foods that are low-carb have very little fibre which can cause constipation. One can avoid that by including vegetables in the diet, since they have soluble fibres that slow down the movement of food in the intestines and ensure complete digestion of food.
- Dehydration: Low-carb diets burn glycogen which is stored in the body, and which has high water content. Excretion of ketones through the urine also causes frequent urination. Such loss of water can leads to dehydration, which can also cause headaches and fatigue.
- Muscle cramps: Diets low in carbohydrates can impact muscles because of the dehydration due to consumption of a low-carb diet and the lack of vitamins important for the well-being of muscles. Muscle cramps can reduce fitness and energy levels as well.
- Craving for sugar: As sugar levels fluctuate, you may have more of a craving for sugar and there may be increase in episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).