Often demonized, here’s what you need to know about this necessary macronutrient.
Despite the negative connotation surrounding our consumption of carbohydrates, the fact remains that carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients that the human body needs to function properly (protein and fats are the other two). While carbohydrates do provide a vital role in maintaining a balanced diet, there are certainly carbohydrates that should be avoided. The primary goal of this blog post is to help our readers navigate the consumption of carbohydrates and understand their impact on their health.
The Functional Role of Carbohydrates as a Macronutrient
Carbohydrates are converted into the brain’s primary and most efficient fuel source — glucose. While many cells in the body can survive at least temporarily on alternate sources of energy, the central nervous system requires glucose, which is almost exclusively derived from carbohydrates. As a result, extreme low-carb and no-carb diets result in a long-term depletion of key nutrients and can result in severe cellular damage. Carbohydrates are also critical in protein synthesis (muscle building) and fat metabolism. That’s right — if your diet is deficient in carbohydrates, then fat metabolism cannot proceed normally.
The Good & Bad Carbohydrates
As discussed in our earlier blog post titled, “The Importance of a Well-Balanced Meal,” the carbohydrates that most certainly should be avoided are carbohydrates infused with added sugars with no corresponding nutrients to slow digestion. In addition, foods that are made from refined flour (e.g., white bread, most cereals and pastas), starches (e.g., potatoes, white rice and corn) and liquid carbohydrates (e.g., beer, fruit juice and sodas) are all problematic to the human body as they raise blood sugar levels and promote the secretion of insulin.
“The very worst foods for us, almost assuredly, are indeed sugars — sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup in particular…The fattening carbohydrates — starches, refined carbohydrates, and sugars — are virtually absent essential nutrients.”
The type of carbohydrates that we should be incorporating into our diet for necessary nutrients are often referred to as “Complex Carbohydrates.” These include foods such as leafy green vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Complex carbohydrates are bound with digestible fiber and take much longer to be digested — thus slowing blood sugar (vs. the bad carbohydrates).
So, What About Low Carb Diets and Ketosis?
Despite the massive body of evidence confirming that the human body has evolved to burn glucose as its primary fuel source, the human body does have a secondary fuel option which involves the burning of fat molecules (ketosis), rather than glucose, as an interim power source. It is believed that this originated to allow us to survive during prolonged periods of food scarcity.
While this diet can be a helpful tool in short-term fat loss, it deprives the body of essential nutrients. And more importantly, it can cause the blood to become overly acidic as it enters somewhat of a starvation mode, culminating in 1. fatigue, 2. brain fog (your brain is missing its core fuel source — glucose), and 3. the potential to damage your heart and muscles.
While ketosis is not optimal for long durations for the average human, controlled ketosis has proven to be a helpful tool for those suffering from a number of specific health disorders and ailments, ranging from epilepsy and diabetes to autism. However, the long-term efficacy of these specific uses for controlled ketosis remains a subject of much interest and ongoing debate.
For the average human being, long-term ketosis is sub-optimal for all the aforementioned reasons. More than 20% of our body cannot utilize ketones for fuel under any circumstance. Certain parts of the central nervous system and brain can only utilize glucose for fuel, so don’t deprive yourself of this macronutrient!
All About Balance
Despite this inherent necessity for the right kind of carbohydrates, SANS also recognizes that excessive carbohydrate intake is not ideal for the average person either. Rather, a diet consisting of moderate complex carbohydrate intake, combined with the consumption of healthy fats and lean protein sources, has emerged as the leading solution.
This premise serves as the foundation for the precise balance of macronutrients in every SANS meal bar. The carbohydrate content has been established to provide the ideal amount for the average person, while still maintaining a total carbohydrate content that is significantly lower than the FDA’s daily value. Our fruits and vegetables provide soluble fiber and key nutrients, while the gluten-free oats (a key source of complex carbs) provide sustained energy due to their slower-burning nature. Again, complex carbohydrates are especially important due to their ability to minimize any insulin spikes associated with the consumption of refined or processed carbohydrates. Insulin spikes trigger fat storage, amongst other negative side effects.
The type of carbs you ingest is equally as important as the total amount of carbohydrates you consume. Unlike the majority of “healthy” bars and prepared foods today, SANS utilizes a clean blend of healthy carbohydrates that will power your healthy lifestyle.
Julie Martin, a Co-Founder in SANS contributed meaningfully to this article. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org