Lifestyle

Aren’t Some Carbs Necessary?

3 Major Reasons You Don’t Need Carbs In Your Diet

If you are seriously considering the Keto diet or have already done so, there might be a part of you that’s worrying about the lack of carbs in your diet. The popularity and the success of ketogenic and other low carb diets similar to the  Atkins diets have fueled an intense fascination with carbohydrates.

Is the current demonization of carbohydrates well deserved or is it just the latest fad. Once upon a time, not long ago, fat was demonized as the culprit behind all things from obesity to heart disease. Now it’s the carbs that are getting a bad rap. So, what’s the truth? Are carbohydrates important? Aren’t some carbs essential in the diet? Let’s find out.

3 Reasons Why Carbs Are Important

First, let’s see what role carbs play in our diet. If carbs are not really needed and can be replaced by something else, we need to understand what the right substitutes are. So let’s take a look at why carbs are important in our diet.

  1. Carbohydrates Are An Efficient Fuel Source

The fuel or the energy source of our body is the food we eat. The calories in such foods are made available by metabolizing it’s carbohydrate, fat and protein content. Protein is reserved for repairing and building muscle tissue. One gram of carb or protein has 4 calories. Though one gram of fat can release 9 calories, the body prefers to burn carbs as they get metabolised quickly, providing a faster burst of energy.

Fat is a slow burning fuel and it tends to get stored as body fat if not used up for energy. Excess carbs are also converted to body fat and stored. This is the body’s basic mechanism to protect itself from periods of starvation as was common among our ancestors, especially in the palaeolithic or caveman period.

Every cell in the body has evolved to burn glucose for energy while the same cannot be said for fat. Fat is metabolised by the liver to release ketones as the energy source while carb metabolization produces glucose.

  1. Certain Organs And Tissues Require Glucose

Our body tries to maintain what it considers as the optimum blood glucose levels. During the absence of dietary glucose, the glycogen reserves in the liver and muscles are released to maintain this blood sugar balance.

The prefered source of fuel for our brain is said to be glucose, but given time, the body can adapt to using ketones for energy. However, our red blood cells (RBCs) continue to rely on glucose.

The National Academy of Medicine recommends a dietary allowance of 130 grams of carbs per day as the amount needed to provide enough glucose for the brain and red blood cells. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 45–65% of total daily calories from carbohydrates. This means for a  2,000-calorie diet, 225–325 grams of carbs are recommended per day. However, on a keto diet, preferably 20 gm to a maximum of 50 gm carbs are recommended per day.

  1. Carbohydrates Are Everywhere

However varied they may be in different parts of the world, all of our modern day diets are based on carbohydrate-rich foods. All of the world’s staple crops are carb-heavy: rice, wheat, corn, sorghum, cassava, plantain, potato, sweet potato, soybean and so on.

Most fruits and many vegetables, which form the very foundation of a well-balanced diet, also contain plenty of carbohydrates. Even dairy and its products contain carbs in the form of milk sugar or lactose.

3 Reasons Why Carbs Are Not Essential

Now that you understand the role of glucose in our diet, let see how we can survive without it. The success of the ketogenic diet depends on ensuring the intake of the right substitutes so that the absence of carbs is not felt by our body.

  1. Proteins Provide The Necessary Glucose

The first thing is that carbs are not the only source of glucose. The human body can reform the amino acids from protein into glucose. A keto diet has plentiful protein and the body creates enough glucose from this to satisfy the glucose needs of the brain and red blood cells as well as to maintain the blood glucose at a normal level.

  1. Carbohydrate Deficiency Doesn’t Result In Illness

You may have heard of essential amino acids and essential fatty acids. These are considered essential as they cannot be synthesised in the body and they cannot be replaced by anything else. But there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.

Deficiencies in essential amino acids or essential fatty acids, as well as any of the vitamins or minerals, lead to impairment or disease. If you embark on a no-carb diet, you may experience keto flu while your body adapts, but beyond that, there are no carbohydrate deficiency diseases waiting to pounce on you. Vitamin B deficiency can be a potential problem in a grain free diet, so ensure you take the necessary vitamin supplements.

  1. It’s Possible To Survive On Very Little Carbohydrates

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that proves that people have survived on very low-carbohydrate diets. There are many people who have successfully followed the Atkins diets and lost twice as much weight at 3 and 6 months when compared to those on conventional low-calorie diets with moderate carb intake. The Atkins dieters also displayed a significant increase in their good cholesterol (HDL) levels while their triglyceride levels decreased notably. The Atkins diet advocates just 20 grams of carbohydrate intake per day! 20 grams is the amount of carbs in a 6-inch banana.

The traditional diet of the Inuit, the natives of northern Canada,  consists of plenty of fresh seal, walrus and other marine life. Refined sugar and grains have no place on their menu. More than 60% of their diet comes from protein and mostly fats. The classic ketogenic diet which advocates 80–90% fat, has been used medically for decades to treat epilepsy and it is now becoming popular as an effective weight loss diet.

The Final Note:

If you are starting out on a ketogenic diet and is concerned about the negative effects of cutting carbs- don’t be worried, it’s perfectly safe to cut out the carbs for a while. Actually, it is impossible to eliminate carbs completely from the diet as even vegetables and dairy do contain some amount of carbs. So no matter how low carb you try to go, some glucose will be available from the diet, in one form or the other, to maintain the blood glucose levels.

The term “low-carb” basically implies eating less refined carbs and added sugar while including more fruits and vegetables. Needless to say, that’s an excellent lifestyle change to incorporate at any given time!

 

References:

https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2003/may/oneyear-study-of-atkins-diet-s

https://www.cigna.com/healthwellness/hw/medical-topics/diabetes-related-high-and-low-blood-sugar-levels-tm7018

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-7/

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report/HTML/D5_Carbs.htm

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/33/12/2657/4692475?redirectedFrom=PDF

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