Fats And Carbs: What You Need To Know

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FATS AND CARBS: DISPELLING DIET MYTHS

What’s the problem?

You’ve probably heard of all kinds of diets: high carb, low carb, high fat, low fat, no carb, ad infinitum. For the last 70 years, there’s been an obsession with the balance of carbs and fats necessary to provide the “optimal” diet, with diets like Atkins and Keto calling for the complete removal of carbs. Equally, saturated fats were given an awful press during the 1950s and 60s, prompting the rise of refined carbs as one of the most popular food groups in the western diet. These attitudes have been appearing again on the internet and certain fitness communities, raising the same old questions: which is better for you? Which should you eat and which should you avoid? Why are there so many different diets that have different levels of each? In this article, I’m going to give you all the practical advice you’ll ever need for dealing with fats and carbohydrates.

Fats and carbohydrates are 2 of the 3 macronutrients which, along with protein, make up the main portion of most people’s diet. They’re called macronutrients because they’re the biggest, most important part of dieting for many of us – they determine energy levels, tissue recovery, hormonal health and ultimately whether we lose or gain weight. However, despite being such a huge part of the science behind dieting and nutrition, there are still some common myths and misconceptions around carbs and fats.

Fats vs carbs: a fake rivalry?

The discussion of carbs vs fats is based on a few simple misconceptions. First, “carbs” and “fats” are both umbrella terms for a wide variety of different compounds that are found in food – carbohydrates are not all the same, nor are fats. We’re going to break down what they actually do so you can cut through the marketing hype and make informed decisions about your health.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are compounds with a 2:1 ratio of hydrogen and oxygen and carbon, but really they’re high-energy food sources that include sugar and starch, as well as various types of dietary fiber. The body digests carbohydrates into glucose, which end up in the blood stream to fuel muscles, organs and the brain: “there is an obligatory requirement for glucose in several organs such as the brain” [1].

Sugars are simple carbohydrates because they are usually short-chains or pure glucose, whereas starches are complex carbs as they are longer-chain and must be broken down during digestion to produce glucose. Simple sugars absorb fast whereas complex starches will absorb more slowly, which is an important distinction for metabolic and digestive health.

Dietary fiber is a form of non-digestible carbohydrate and can be soluble or insoluble – these are both fantastic for health. Dietary fiber is mostly found in the “bulk” of plant products. Dietary fiber improves your digestive regularity, combats constipation and regulates metabolic and digestive health.

What are fats?

Dietary fats are not the same as the fat in your body: they are the fatty, buttery compounds found in your foods that are dense sources of energy. Dietary fats are all high-calorie, but they are found as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are listen in approximately the health benefits they provide: saturated fats (such as animal fats and coconut oil) are not unhealthy but are generally less healthy than polyunsaturated fats (like olive oil).

Fats are essential for health across a variety of systems – they are the building blocks of hormones and regulate proper sexual health, as well as being necessary for the absorption and use of a number of key vitamins and minerals. Being deficient in dietary fats is genuinely dangerous and fats should always be present in the diet, despite their calorie-density.

Fats and carbs for diet

No foods are healthy or unhealthy by themselves, only in the context of a complete diet. The important question, then, is “how many carbs and fats should be in my diet?”. Most people only care about nutrition for improving their body and life, so we’re going to leave you with some important practical guidelines so that you can make the best of your diet.

1. Good fats are primary

When we’re looking at fats and carbohydrates, its important to note that dietary fats are non-optional. A diet that is too low in fats will start to show negative health effects quickly and high-quality dietary fats are amazing for health. Look to consume fatty fish, high-quality meats (red or white) and olive oil as your main forms of dietary fat, with seeds and nuts as a close second.

2. Dietary fiber is the original superfood

Dietary fiber is one of the most underrated food sources for diet and health, and you should probably be eating more. Dietary fiber can be found in a variety of plant-based products such as spinach, kale, wholegrains (such as oats) and legumes. Alternatively, fiber snacks provide a great alternative to common snacks with a huge boost of dietary fiber.

Dietary fiber is a great way to combat blood sugar spikes and the onset of diabetes, as well as regulating metabolism and digestive health, so you should be getting some form of fiber with every meal.

3. Eat simpler carbs in proportion to activity

NET carbs are totally fine for your health if they’re consumed in moderation, with the correct balance. Starches should be your main source of NET carbs, preferably from healthy vegetables like sweet potatoes, wholegrains like oats or buckwheat, or legumes such as beans. Sugars can be featured in the diet in small amounts, with a focus on eating natural sugars closer to physical activity or to improve energy levels rapidly. This mean during a training session or at the end of a long, hard working-day a banana, blueberries or high-quality carbohydrate supplements  make a great choice. The more exercise/activity you do, the more simple carbs your body will need.

4. Always focus on quality as well as quantity

The most important thing to remember when comparing fats and carbs is that there are better and worse forms, depending on your dietary needs. For example, there are healthy forms of saturated fats and sugars can have positive health effects – the focus should be on the quantity and quality of the carbs or fats in your diet.

A simple rule is to preferentially choose unprocessed, plant- or fish-based fats and plant-based or wholegrain carbs. This means choosing oatmeal over processed, sugary cereals, or making teriyaki salmon with a bean salad rather than battered fish and chips. The quality of these unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is far higher than their commercial counterparts and is far better for health. This means that your diet should focus on complex carbs, dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fats (primarily Omega-3 and olive oils) and a small amount of saturated fats (from animal products and coconut/MCT oil). A perfect way to add these necessary nutrients to your diet is through your choice of Isagenix 30-day packages.

Closing remarks

Fats aren’t bad, and neither are carbs, but a balanced diet has a focus on high-quality foods in both of these categories. You should be focusing on healthy, essential fats and carbohydrates from high-quality, unprocessed sources. Fats (saturated and unsaturated) and carbs (sugars, starches and fiber) are best consumed from whole foods and should be eaten in proportion to the amount of exercise and stressful activity you perform in a day.

References

[1] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/59/3/682S.abstract

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Liam Rodgers
Liam Rodgers is an under-23 Olympic weightlifter, coach and full-time writer with a passion for everything human performance. With a history of coaching and writing that started at only 19, he’s been continually involved with the sports, fitness and health industry for around 3.5 years. His writing attempts to provide complex, informative information in a way that is accessible and interesting. He is head coach and content writer for Conquest Powersports and has interests such as exercise science, biomechanics, sports psychology, coaching, functional rehabilitation and sport journalism. Watch for Liam as a guest writer on our site, or at the Olympics in the next decade!