In the 90s, low fat dieting resulted in high carbohydrate diets due to a plethora of snacks that touted their low or no fat ingredients. Unfortunately these fats were frequently replaced by sugar and starch and America's weight kept increasing.

This continued increase of our waistlines caused us to search for an alternative and the Low Carbohydrate, High Protein diet craze began in the early 2000s with the rediscovery of the Atkins diet. In his clinic, Dr. Atkins utilized an extremely low carbohydrate diet, which was followed rigorously, until a healthy weight was achieved. At that point, some carbs could be allowed back into the diet.

Other diet theories, such as those using a glycemic index, claim that some carbohydrates affect the body differently from others.

Starchy and sugary foods trigger our insulin to rise quickly, while higher-fiber foods have a slower effect on our blood sugar, called glucose. The “high glycemic carbs” are to be avoided and the “low glycemic carbs” are to eaten more often.

What Is A Carbohydrate?

OK. Carbs are good? Carbs are bad? Which is it? In fact what is a carbohydrate anyway? defines a carbohydrate as:

"Any of a group of organic compounds that includes sugars, starches, cellulose, and gums and serves as a major energy source in the diet of animals. These compounds are produced by photosynthetic plants and contain only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, usually in the ratio 1:2:1."

Lets ignore the chemistry and look at the rest: sugars, starches, cellulose......major energy source....produced by...plants. OK, that makes it easier; we know carbohydrates come from plant foods.

Types of Carbohydrates

There are basically four types of carbohydrates in nutrition. There are sugars, starches, fibers and gums. Sugars usually make things taste sweet. We find sugar in fruits called fructose, and sugar in sugar beets and sugar canes called sucrose, plus there is lactose in milk. Another type of sugar is glucose, which is the simple form of sugar our bodies like to use for fuel.

Starches are long chains or branched chains of glucose and sometimes other sugars. The starches are used to store energy in plants. Some vegetables, like potatoes and corn have a lot of starch, while some vegetables like green beans and spinach don't have so much.

Fibers are also found in plants. Fibers are carbohydrates that our bodies can't digest, so they pass through our digestive systems. You might commonly hear about 2 types of fiber called soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers are found in fruits, flax seeds, and oats. Soluble fiber will help to reduce cholesterol, and will slow down the absorption of sugar into our blood.

Gums are carbohydrates that are often used as fillers and thickeners like carageenan and guar gum.

Carbohydrates For Energy

Looking back at the definition, we see “major energy source.” That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? In fact it is. Our muscles, brains, and nerve cells all need glucose (blood sugar) for the fuel we need to get us through our daily activities. Our bodies get this glucose from the sugars and starches that we eat by breaking them down during digestion. The glucose triggers insulin, which is needed to use the glucose as fuel, or to convert the glucose to a stored form of glucose called glycogen. We find carbohydrates in plant foods, but not in meats. Although there is some glycogen stored in muscle tissue, it degrades and is gone before the meat gets to our tables. Eating Too Many Carbohydrates We know that carbohydrates are good for us because they provide us with energy, so how can they be bad? Well, for one thing, we tend to eat too many of them and we store the extra calories as fat.

The insulin that allows our bodies to use carbohydrates as fuel also allows us to store excess carbohydrates as fat. The problem is, carbohydrates taste really good. We love sweets, and we love breads and pastries. Some people seem to be “addicted to carbohydrates” and they can have a very difficult time controlling their carbohydrate intake. Many of us lead sedentary lifestyles that will also lead to weight gain because we can take in more energy than we expend. Another downside to excessive sugar consumption is the depletion of several of the B vitamins that are necessary to turn sugar and starch in to energy for our bodies. A high sugar and starch diet without enough B vitamins can leave us feeling tired and fatigued.

Controlling Carbohydrate Intake

Carbohydrates are needed for good health, but too much of a good thing can cause us problems. How do we find the middle ground in the carbohydrate debates? Here are some of my suggestions:

Increase activity by changing daily activities or adding an exercise routine. Avoid the high calorie foods liked pastries and candies and processed junk foods – stick to whole foods like fruits and vegetables for your carbohydrate intake. Starchy vegetables and grain products have more calories per serving than green vegetables. Stick with green vegetables and salad vegetables to keep your calorie count low. Choose whole grains over processed white flour products. 100% whole grain products have more fiber, which keeps our digestive systems healthy. We should get at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Lots of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fiber all keep us healthy. Drink enough water. Thirst is often disguised as a hungry feeling that causes us to over-eat. Stay away from sugary beverages. Drink water, herbal teas, and 100% juice. Eat smaller portions. Make a loose fist with each of your hands and hold them together. That is about the size of your stomach. It doesn’t take much to feel full. Eat slowly and start with a healthy salad or broth-based soup. It takes a few minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that is has had enough, so slow down. We can eat way too many carbs in those few minutes. Go ahead and adopt a low-carbohydrate diet if you need to lose weight, and don’t dive back into the cookies and cakes when you reach your goal weight.

Author's Bio: 

Tim Mielke
Competitive Bodybuilder and Author

Tim Mielke has been involved in the supplement industry for over 15 years. As a former competitive body builder and personal trainer, Tim has extensive first-hand knowledge of the benefits and pitfalls of fitness supplementation. Knowledge so extensive, in fact, that his book, “The Book of Supplement Secrets: A Beginners Guide to Nutritional Supplements,” was recently published and is currently available through Tim brings this supplement and bodybuilding know-how to as a contributing author and researcher.