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Carbohydrates Explored: Health, Myths, and Truths

What are carbohydrates? Do carbohydrates prevent weight loss? How healthy is wholemeal? Does the brain need sugar?

On average, every American eats

about 40 kg of sugar a year! So for about 6 weeks of the year, we live on isolated sugar only.

Why do we love carbs?

This is because they provide energy quickly.

Our brain loves sugar. Especially when we are feeling tired.

The reward centre in the brain is even stimulated by sugar. Your body then releases the happiness hormone serotonin.

Sugar moderates our stress response and calms and comforts us. Some eat more and some eat less when they are stressed, but what we all do when we are stressed is that we prefer to reach for sweets.

Besides, we are already very used to sugar. The industry now adds more sugar to almost everything to make it taste better and make us buy more. Sugar is a very cheap ingredient that enhances the taste and increases the shelf life of food.

What are these carbohydrates?

Alongside fats and proteins, carbohydrates are among the main components of our food. Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms and are divided into three main categories: Single sugars (monosaccharides), double sugars (disaccharides) and multiple sugars (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides).

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Carbohydrates are found in:

  • Sweet fruit,

  • potatoes,

  • Cereals (and therefore flour)

  • Pseudo-cereals (e.g. rice, maize, millet and quinoa)

  • Dairy products

  • Sweets

  • etc.

Caution: Sugar often hides where we don't expect it!

e.g. in sauces, ketchup, muesli, bread, canned food, crisps, sausage, frozen products and many ready-made meals.

The only thing that helps is to look at the ingredients of the products.

The terms sucrose (= household sugar), dextrose, glucose, lactose, syrup, maltodextrin or barley malt, for example, stand for sugar in food.

Fructose is often hidden behind the terms corn syrup or agave syrup.

Does eating too many carbohydrates prevent you from losing weight?

When blood sugar levels rise, our pancreas produces insulin. This is a hormone that helps absorb sugar into the cells. This is of great importance for the body. However, the unfortunate consequence of this process is that fat burning is hindered. Instead of turning to fat reserves for energy, the body focuses on breaking down the excess sugar. This can make losing weight very difficult.

In addition, excess sugar is converted into body fat, which often accumulates in the liver and abdominal area.

Furthermore, a high-carbohydrate diet often leads to cravings, which in turn can make losing weight almost impossible.

However, you can still eat carbohydrates and lose weight. Just watch the amount and choose the healthiest carbohydrate sources possible. For example, if you eat a normal amount of potatoes, that is healthy for you. It's better to avoid sugar from drinks, for example.

How healthy are wholemeal products?

Wholemeal bread is significantly healthier compared to products made from white flour. It is characterised by a higher content of dietary fibre, which creates a feeling of satiety and serves as food for the beneficial intestinal bacteria. The rise in blood sugar levels is not as rapid as with white flour products. In addition, whole grain products are richer in minerals, vitamins and protein.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that wholemeal bread still contains a considerable amount of carbohydrates. Therefore, the rule is: enjoyment in moderation.

What are the health risks of high sugar and carbohydrate consumption?

Too many carbohydrates are the beginning of almost all diseases of civilisation.

  • High sugar intake can lead to an increase in fat levels in the blood, which can promote deposits and cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, heart attacks and high blood pressure.

  • Type 2 diabetes can develop if too much sugar is eaten over a long period of time. First the cells become more insulin-resistant and then the pancreas gives up and can no longer produce insulin.

  • Flatulence, cramps or diarrhoea can also be consequences of too much sugar consumption or fructose intolerance.

  • After excessive sugar consumption, the body falls back into a state of hypoglycaemia, which leads to low mood, fatigue and cravings.

  • Excessive consumption of sugar can also lead to the release of stress hormones.

  • Sugar can be addictive. You get used to the quick energy highs and get irritable and tense when you don't get them. The sugar is broken down so quickly and your body keeps demanding more sugar. This is a vicious circle.

  • Too much sugar consumption can affect hormone balance and lead to anxiety and depression.

  • Sugar makes your skin look worse and you get more pimples, wrinkles and less elastic skin.

  • It causes bad teeth (caries).

  • Sugar promotes inflammation in the body. Gout and arthritis can even develop

  • Bowel cancer can also develop with increased sugar consumption.

  • Increased sugar consumption by children is also linked to ADHD (confirmed by WHO). Children can no longer concentrate properly and find it very difficult to calm down.

  • However, the best-known side effect of too many carbohydrates and sugar is obesity.

Fun Fact:

Pure sugar does not satiate us, regardless of the amount we eat.

sugar = sugar ?

Glucose vs. fructose:

Many notorious carbohydrate bombs such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes contain mainly glucose in the form of starch. Fructose is found in fruit, drinks, honey, half in household sugar and thus e.g. in baked goods and sweets and is often added to foods artificially.

Why does it make a difference?

Fructose - sounds healthy, but is considered the most questionable sugar!

Fructose in particular promotes metabolic disorders such as diabetes and fatty liver.

This is because the liver handles the two types of sugar differently:

The liver will take some glucose when it needs energy, but the rest, which it does not need, is distributed throughout the body via the blood. The glucose is now taken up by the cells (e.g. in muscles or the brain) that need energy.

With fructose, the liver absorbs almost everything - no matter if it needs as much as you consume. There, the excess fructose is turned into fat.

There is a theory that explains this different reaction of our body with our evolutionary history. Namely, many fruits ripen at the end of the growing season - when the body already has to prepare for winter. So a lot of fructose could mean that the body has to start accumulating fat for the winter. This would switch the whole body into a saving mode. This is at least a well-known theory.

In any case, it is certain that fructose inhibits the signalling pathways of messenger substances such as leptin and that we therefore feel less satiated and eat more.

When fructose is broken down, it also increases the level of uric acid in the blood, which can trigger gout, for example.

In addition, it is estimated that about 35% of all americans suffer from a more or less pronounced fructose intolerance. This manifests itself as flatulence, cramps or diarrhoea. Just try out whether your intestines feel better if you avoid fructose.

Isolated vs. natural:

However, it also makes a difference whether sugar is consumed in isolated form, as found in sweets, or in natural form, as found in fresh fruit.

The isolated sugar in a chocolate bar or cola enters the blood quickly, causing blood sugar levels to rise and fall rapidly. This often leads to a craving afterwards.

In contrast, the sugar content in fruit is embedded in a natural compound of numerous accompanying substances such as water, fibre and vitamins. This slows down and moderates the rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. The blood sugar level also falls more slowly afterwards.

The problem is therefore household sugar (half of which consists of isolated fructose and half of glucose) and products containing large quantities of this industrial, isolated sugar! Fruit juices and soft drinks should be replaced with water if possible.

Eat complex carbohydrates, which are much healthier for you. Complex carbohydrates are also found in wholemeal products and pulses, for example.

Your brain needs sugar - myth?

Your brain is a sugar junkie. However, it cannot store sugar. That's why it keeps taking the sugar it needs from your blood. Every day, the brain burns about 140 grams of glucose.

But that doesn't mean you have to rely on unhealthy table sugar.

You can use sugars from healthier carbohydrate sources, such as fruit, vegetables, pulses or grains. These are not only enough to meet your needs, they also provide you with energy without blood sugar spikes. Your body takes longer to break down the sugar molecules, so the energy comes more slowly and continuously. These complex carbohydrates therefore provide you with energy for longer.

If you go without carbohydrates for a while, that's no problem either.

If you don't have enough sugar in your blood, your liver produces so-called ketone bodies from waste products that are produced when fat and proteins are metabolised. These can be used as a source of energy. This happens, for example, when you fast.

Eat sugar before an exam?

Unfortunately, no! That's another myth. Animal studies have shown that mice tended to become more forgetful, anxious and depressed after eating glucose.

How much sugar can one consume daily?

The WHO recommends taking in less than 10% of your energy intake in sugar. What does this mean? To calculate the recommendation for your personal sugar limit, first determine your daily kilocalorie consumption. You can easily track this in Weighlos. Divide this number by 10 and then again by 4, because 1 gram of sugar has about 4 kilocalories.

On average, this results in a sugar limit of about 40 - 50g per day.

But less is always better, because this is the upper limit.

According to the WHO, it is even better to reduce sugar consumption to only 5% of energy intake or to a maximum of 25g. This is the amount that the WHO considers safe for health.

There is also a recommendation for carbohydrates:

  • Very active and healthy people can tolerate 250-300 g KH a day, depending on their performance.

  • Active healthy "normals" should eat about 200 g KH

  • Overweight people 120 - 150 g KH per day

Is living sugar-free healthy?

Yes! There was a study of a tribe living in the Amazon that ate very little sugar and had no access to artificial sugar at all.

There, 85% of 40 to 94 year olds had a healthy cardiovascular system - For comparison, in America only 14% do. But this is only one of the many benefits.

Many people who fast sugar report being fitter, healthier, leaner, more focused and balanced after overcoming the initial difficulties.

Just try it out for yourself!

How much sugar do you eat on average every day?

Have you ever observed this?

I used to like to start the day with a cup of cocoa. I ate sweets in shocking quantities and had many excuses for it. I need chocolate to be in a good mood. I'm allowed to indulge myself now, my day was so stressful.

It was all the more exciting for me to delve so deeply into healthy eating. Even if the dietary change is hard, it's worth it to learn about nutrition and take small steps in the right direction!

For me personally, the beginning was especially hard. It helps me to keep reminding myself of the disadvantages of sugar and to tell myself that I am doing something good for my body. And every day that I pay attention to my diet, I find it easier and easier. My weight also continues to fall every day without me feeling very restricted.


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