Sugar and carbohydrates get a lot of hate in the wellness and diet world. We’re constantly being bombarded with messages like “don’t eat sugar,” “sugar causes diabetes, “carbs make you fat,” and “your body doesn’t need carbs.” We’ve moved from villainizing fat to villainizing sugar. Keto, low carb and carnivore diets are becoming more and more popular. Is there actually merit to this or are we just looking for something else to demonize and blame for our health problems?
If you’ve ever taken a basic biology class (which you should have if you’re a high school graduate), you’ll know that the body’s main/preferred source of fuel is glucose. And what is glucose? SUGAR! Literally everything you eat is converted to sugar inside your body and used as fuel (any extra is then converted to fat and stored for later use). Sugar is so important for the functioning of every cell in your body, that if you don’t consume enough, your body will literally breakdown your own tissues and convert them into sugar – this is a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Can we survive without sugar? Yes, we can. We’ve evolved to use fat for fuel, during times of famine, so we wouldn’t die. This is known as ketosis. But why would you want to just survive when you can thrive? I’ve never been a fan of the keto diet because my intuition has always told me that purposely putting my body into a state of emergency is not a good idea. This is not respectful or loving towards the one body you get in this lifetime.
Many people choose to eat very low carb or engage in fasting to purposely put themselves into a state of ketosis, for the purpose of losing body fat. While this will help with losing body fat, it does not come without consequences, especially for women.
Carbohydrates and sugar are essential for hormonal health. They fuel the thyroid, which is the organ responsible for our metabolic health. Having a healthy metabolism is imperative for the proper functioning of your entire body. Metabolism is so much more than just your weight.
Carbohydates/sugar provide the body with:
- Vitamins and minerals
- Fuel for the brain and muscles
- Relief from stress
- Bowel elimination
- Help fighting infections
- Lubrication for joints
If you go long periods of time without eating carbs, or eating very little carbs, your body will begin to run on stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones are meant to be used temporarily to get you through times of stress. If you are relying on them to get through every day, eventually you will experience burnout (especially if you are also living a stressful life, which most of us are) and your metabolism will slow down to accommodate the lack of fuel coming in.
You may begin to experience symptoms, such as:
- Cold hands and feet
- Loss of libido
- Irregular period
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
There is a lot of confusion when it comes to sugar and carbohydrates. The reason for this is because there are different types of carbohydrates and they are not created equal.
There are two categories of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are glucose, fructose, galactose, lactose, sucrose and maltose. These are your fruits, juices, honey, maple syrup, milk and white table sugar.
Complex carbohydrates are starches and grains. These are potatoes, root vegetables, rice, corn and wheat, to name some examples.
When most people think of carbs, they are thinking of bread, pasta, cookies, cake, pizza, etc. These are NOT the types of carbs that I am promoting as essential for metabolic health. These types of carbohydrates can be inflammatory and promote disease, especially when eaten in excess and without protein and fat. These should be considered treats, not staples.
I am referring to fruit, fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, milk, root vegetables/potatoes, and yes, even white sugar.
Simple carbohydrates are the best sources for metabolic health. These carbohydrates contain the most vitamins and minerals and are the easiest to digest.
While carbohydrates are essential for good metabolic health, it’s important to note that they should never be eaten alone. This will cause your blood sugar to spike. To maintain balanced blood sugar, carbs should always be eaten together with protein and fat.
It’s also important to note, as with everything, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. So while carbohydrates are important and healthy, they should still be eaten in moderation. Also, if you’re coming off of a low carb diet, it’s important to add them back in slowly.