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Carbohydrates: Why are they confusing

Carbohydrates can be a source of confusion, many of whom believe they should avoid pasta, juice, bananas, sugar… the list goes on. In reality, people who are physically inactive and whose bodies do not readily metabolise carbohydrates may need to take a different approach to consuming carbohydrates compared to regular exercisers and athletes. Here are some points to help resolve carbohydrate confusion. What do you mean when you say “carbs”?

  • Carbohydrates include both sugars and starches; they are biochemically similar. For example, an unripe banana (or any fruit) is starchy. As it ripens, it becomes sweeter; the starch converts into sugar. In comparison, peas (and other vegetables) are sweet when young and their sugar converts into starch as they mature.

  • All forms of sugar and starch digest into the simple sugar glucose. Glucose travels in the blood and, with the help of insulin, is taken up for fuel by the muscles to fuel your workouts. Fit bodies handle carbohydrates better than unfit bodies.

Are carbs bad for you?

  • Regarding health, some carbs are better for you than others because some offer more nutrients than others. Even though refined sugar adds “empty calories” to a sports diet, you need not eat a sugar-free diet to have a healthy diet. A physically fit, healthy person’s menu can accommodate 10% of calories from refined sugar (World Health Organization’s guidelines). Yet, if you frequently consume sweets plus sports drinks and gels, you can easily consume more than 250 to 350 calories (10% of calories) from refined sugar.

Are carbs fattening?

  • Despite popular belief, carbohydrates are not inherently fattening. Excess calories are fattening.

For physically active, fit people who are at lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity, sugar and carbs are not toxic and may be a helpful way to enhance athletic performance. The one-size-diet does not fit all. No one is suggesting that you or your clients should eat more sugar, but rather understand that athletes and people who are regularly physically active can embrace a way of eating that includes an appropriate balance of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) in each meal. Strive for a healthy eating pattern that includes 85-90% quality foods and 10-15% whatever. Some days, whatever might be an apple; other days, it might be a slice of apple pie.

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