Carbohydrates Explained

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates or carbs for short, are macronutrients which provide a source energy to our bodies. They are the predominant fuel source which will be tapped into during high intensity training sessions and unless you are in a ketogenic state, glucose (what carbs break down into during breakdown) will be the only fuel utilized by your brain and nervous system under normal conditions. [If a non-normal condition arises which requires more energy or carbohydrates are not available and the body is required to break down another macronutrient for energy, this will present a different energy-utilization scenario for your body.]

Typically, in a carb based diet, carbohydrates make up roughly 40-65% of the diet’s caloric requirements. Individuals can drop this amount significantly and still have enough energy to perform, but this again is based entirely on the activity level, body size, activities to be performed and level of adaption to the activity. It is not advisable to under fuel for activities, though people who do their own diet and nutrition often do this, unintentionally.

While ketogenic diets such as Athletic Ketosis does not rely heavily on carbohydrates, even these diets can utilize carbs in a pre-workout fashion to fuel high-intensity strength training exercises.

Part of the reason carbs got a bad reputation is because not all carbohydrates is created equal. Within the current state of American diets, about 45-55% of the carbohydrates people consume are in the forms of high-fructose corn syrups and sucrose, two types of sugars (carbs) which are the least ideal for most people, especially those who are not using this carb to fuel performance.

 

What are the types of Carbohydrates?

A common question you might hear or be wondering is: What kinds of carbs are there?

  1. Polysaccharides – this is a complex carbohydrate which can consist of many monosaccharides (simple sugars) linked together
    1. Starch– included potatoes, wheat, corn and rice.
    2. Fiber – This is a particular type of carb which cannot be digested by the body but provides numerous benefits, low caloric yield, and high satiety. It is broken downs into two types and the recommendation is to aim for an intake of 20-30 grams per day.
      1. Soluble – This type can help lower blood pressure and glucose levels and can commonly be found in oatmeal, bran, root vegetables, lentils, some fruits and nuts.
      2. Insoluble – This type can help move food/ruffage through your digestive tracts, preventing constipation and improving regularity. Common examples include oats, rye, barley, brown rice, some vegetables, whole gain and wheat.
    3. Glycogen – This is a long term storage option for the body that is produced within the muscle and liver. (The brain and stomach can also produce glycogen during glycogenesis).
  2. Oligosaccharides – These are one of the components of fiber, typically found in plants, which are said to have many health benefits.
    1. Found in many vegetables such as onions, garlic, sunflower, asparagus.
  3. Disaccharides – A disaccharide is a type of carbohydrate consisting of two monosaccharides (simple sugars) linked together.
    1. Maltose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (glucose and glucose) and is found in candies and many cereals.
    2. Sucrose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (fructose and glucose) and this is known as table sugar – often coming from sugar cane.
    3. Lactose – this is a combination of two simple sugars (glucose and galactose) and is found in milk.
  4. Monosaccharides – there are the most basic and simple of the carbohydrates. They are often referred to as single sugars and are used to form bigger carbs (such as disaccharides).
    1. Galactose – examples include dried figs, milk, many beans, many yogurts.
    2. Fructose – examples include honey, fruit juices, some sweeter wines, types of molasses and corn syrups.
    3. Glucose – examples include fruit juices, candies, honey, agave nectar, chocolate, energy drinks.

As a note glucose and galactose have an exceptionally high glycemic index as compared to fructose which raises the blood sugar slower and at a milder rate (lower glycemic index). Sugar alcohols resemble both mono and disaccharides but are not either of them.

 

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Carbohydrates yield 4 kcal/energy per gram. For example, a candy carb with 30 grams of carbs yields, just from these carbs, 120 calories worth of energy.

 

In conclusion: Carbohydrates these can be viewed through the lens of sugars, starches and fiber.

Sugars are the simple carbohydrates and can be found in syrups, honey, table sugar, baked goods and juices.

Starches are the complex carb storage form in plants and can be found in breads, rice, pastas, corn and potatoes.

Fiber is a structural plan polysaccharide and is found in vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, oats, breads and whole grain products.

When I am in Ketosis – What happens to the carbs I DO eat?

When you are in a state of nutritional ketosis you will remain in this state unless you fall over the carbohydrate threshold and kick yourself out of ketogenesis.

What happens to the carbohydrates you consume while safely WITHIN ketosis?

I answered this recently: [Transcript]

Individual: The longer I eat under 35g carbs the sooner I burn fat during the day?
I’m not sure how to word this but the sooner the carbs burn up the sooner my body fat and healthy fat is used as fuel and help build muscle and lean me out?

Leon: When you are in ketosis and not over your carb limit – your body will use fat for energy even in the presence of carbs. So as you walk, breathe, function – fat is being utilized to fuel this, not carbs. Fat, both in a ketogenic state and in a non ketogenic state, is used to fuel low intensity movements – whereas carbs are preferred for high intensity exercises – so if you have carbs available it will eat through that before going to fat. But to answer your question – and I really mean this – just stay under your allotted carb amount. If I thought staying under 5g would help you burn more calories, or in an amount that is significant enough to relevant, I would tell you to do so. You must also remember that we are thinking marathon not sprint – just stay under your total carbs and you will be maximizing your potential fat burning, especially along with IF, which I recommend ofcourse at 14 hours for women and 16. Remember – caloric deficit is what causes fat/weight loss. Ketogenic state just let’s us use a fuel that helps enhance this objective. A caloric surplus in ketosis is still weight gain. There are some functions that may still require glucose and the carbs you consume will go to meeting those demands. I believe eating 20-35g carbs is healthier and safer than 0-15g total. Some of the more elite ketogenic athletes I coach consume carbs pre exercise as they lift for 3 hours at extreme levels of volume and weight and use this carb to fuel their workout. The carbs are eaten and they are still in a ketogenic state. I ofcourse do not recommend doing this without guidance from a dietary perspective. But I mention this as so far to say that their fat and weight loss is not inhibited. Ketosis has many benefits besides an acceleration of fat utilization and fat metabolism – but in simple terms.. Don’t worry about those carbs especially if you lift. And even if you don’t – don’t hurt your diet and long term sustainability in a mad scramble to min/max yourself to lowest carbs possible.

 

The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to suffer in the creation of your meal plan and miss out on potential foods you enjoy, just to drop to under 20g carbs -> there is no need for this as you are not gaining any relevant benefits. Just stay in a ketogenic state, drink water, manage your electrolytes, check in with your coach and enjoy life.

 

Why does everyone think fat is bad for you?

The National Dietary Guidelines, which were developed in 1977, have been spreading misleading about fat for decades by allowing trite and archaic misconceptions to stand and spread into the general public giving them false information and ideas about dietary fats and their consumption.

The general public doesn’t know why fat is bad. They just “know it is” and they will argue this to the bitter end. How can consuming fat NOT be bad for you? It makes sense on some basal level of reasoning. This lead to decades of diets and fads and why people have been spinning in circles never achieving their dreams while those with higher tier coaches are able to look how you want to look. But we are not here to argue feelings – we must look at concrete scientific data showing why consumption of certain types of fat is NOT bad for your health.

Why do people inherently believe that fat is bad?

What lead to this initial belief that seems to permeate the minds and opinions of not only the general populace, but also most fitness and nutritional coaches who know little past their personal experiences and what has worked for them personally?

Answer:

The National Dietary Guidelines that were established and are used by the United States. These guidelines were introduced in 1977 and had the goal of reducing coronary heart disease (CHD). People have always feared the word fat because we associate it with body fat, which for all intensive purposes, is the byproduct of eating within a caloric surplus resulting in energy storage within fat cells.

The guidelines did the best they could considering they had absolutely no data to back up this claim about fat – but it is the claim that has propagated recommendations for the last 40 years, even in the face of a decade of new studies proving their claim that fat causes CHD to be non-correlative and incorrect. The guidelines were recommended to over 220 million Americans without any supporting evidence from Randomized Controlled Trials. The decision was made based upon a 1977 a study which was conducted on 2467 unhealthy men and recommendations were made based off the findings of this group.

No reviews have been made of the trials and evidence available at the time until recently and the recommendations were originally made in 1977.

How could such a lack of evidence/data pass through as government guidelines?

Two men, Dr. Robert Olsen and Senator George McGovern, chair of the Dietary Committee.

In a recorded discussion in 1977, Olsen said:

“I pleaded in my report and will plead again orally here for more research on the problem before we make announcements to the American public.”

to which the Senator replied with:

“Senators don’t have the luxury that the research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in”.

An abundance of evidence and Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) were available to the dietary committees and were not considered. Looking upon the trial of 1977 trial of the 2467 men which had been observed – No primary prevention measures, no RCT from the dietary fat recommendations and no women were included in the trial. No RCT at the time concluded that the dietary guidelines were advisable. It is baffling how dietary advice was recommended for over 220 million Americans from highly conflicting results from a small number of unhealthy men.

A meta-analysis and review of RCTs published prior to 1983 was conducted which studied the relationship between cholesterol, dietary fat, the development of Coronary Heart Disease.

No differences were found in the cause of mortality resulting from dietary interventions. Even when the controlled groups had their cholesterol levels dramatically improved – there was still no difference in mortality rates compared to groups with higher levels of cholesterol. Looking at over 18 studies examined in this meta-analysis – there was no relationships found between the deaths which occurred from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) or all-causes, even though there were serious and significant reductions in the cholesterols levels across the groups which had dietary interventions (including the control group). These studies show that the role serum cholesterol plays as an intermediate to the development of CHD has been widely misconstrued. General reductions in dietary fat and saturated fat do not decrease the development of CHD.

In conclusion: Based on the current literature and studies – Dietary Fat intake and cholesterol level does not contribute to higher levels of mortality and CHD.

 

References:

Harcombe Z, Baker JS, Cooper SM, et al. Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart 2015;2:e000196. Link to the Study

DiNicolantonio, JJ. The cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates or Ω-6 polyunsaturated fats: Do the dietary guidelines have it wrong? Open Heart 2014;1:1 e000032. Link to Study

Lundell, D. Heart surgeon speaks out on what really causes heart disease. March 2012. Link

Sachdeva, Amit et al. Lipid levels in patients hospitalized with coronary artery disease: An analysis of 136,905 hospitalizations in Get With The Guidelines. American Heart Journal , Volume 157 , Issue 1 , 111 – 117.e2. Link to Study

Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, Crowe F, Ward HA, Johnson L, et al. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:398-406. doi: 10.7326/M13-1788. Link to Study

Bahl, R. The evidence base for fat guidelines: a balanced diet. Open Heart 2015;2: doi:10.1136/openhrt-2014-000229. Link to Study

de Souza Russell J, Mente Andrew, Maroleanu Adriana, Cozma Adrian I, Ha Vanessa, Kishibe Teruko et al. Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies

Sauvaget C, Nagano J, Hayashi M, Yamada M. Animal protein, animal fat, and cholesterol intakes and risk of cerebral infarction mortality in the adult health study. Stroke 2004;35:1531-7. Link to Study

Nutritional Differences between Organic and Non-Organic Milk and Meat

There has been much discussion surrounding the claims that there are health and nutritional benefits of Organic vs Non-Organic Milk and Meat. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found some stark differences between the two especially as it pertains to fatty acid composition, as well as to nutrient/antioxidant content.

Several findings stand out as relevant:

  • Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is found at a 40% greater concentration in Organic Milk.
  • Iodine and Selenium is found at a 74% greater concentration in Non-Organic Milk.
  • Iron, Vitamin E and some carotenoids are found in higher concentrations in Organic Milk.
    • Carotenoids function as antioxidants which can help protect against cellular damage, aging effects and have even shown to have beneficial effects towards some chronic diseases. It’s important to note, at least for informational purposes, that these carotenoids cannot be synthesized by humans and your diet is the only way to get them.
  • Beneficial Omega-3 Fatty Acids are found at a 50% greater concentration in both Organic Milk and Meat than the similar conventional Non-Organic products.
  • Palmitic and Myristic acid, which are two types of saturated fats, are found in slightly lower concentrations in Organic meat and  have been linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease.

All in all, the literature points to the facts that Organic Milk and Meat have more preferable fat profiles and that these profiles are commonly found in the organic farming standards which promote outdoor grazing and low concentrate feedings.

 

References:

DŚrednicka-Tober , MBarański , CJSeal , et al. (2016) Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta- and redundancy analyses. Br J Nutr 115, 10431060. Link to the Study