Carbohydrates have been given a lot of negative press over the years. From bread and rice to pasta and potatoes, we’re constantly hearing about how eating large amounts of high-carb foods can make us put on weight, cause sluggishness and fatigue, and increase our risk of diabetes.
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Some of these claims relating to a high-carb diet are indeed true, but it really depends on the type of carbohydrates you eat. “Bad” or refined carbohydrates, like those found in sugary drinks, white bread, cookies, cakes and pastries should certainly be avoided or eaten in moderation. “Good” carbohydrates, on the other hand, are essential to a healthy diet. Good carbohydrate foods include whole-wheat pasta and bread, brown rice, grains like quinoa, oats and barley, sweet potatoes, yams and other starchy vegetables, corn, chickpeas, and most fruit. Health problems arise when we make this entire food group completely off-limits because we assume that all carbs are fattening.
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Here are seven ways a low-carb diet can affect you in both the short and long term.
1. Reduces your physical and mental performance: This is no surprise, seeing as carbohydrates are a main source of energy for the body. Even if you’re not that physically active, other parts of your body, like your brain, need carbs in order to function effectively – which is why many people on a low-carb diet often experience “brain fog”. Good carbohydrates offer a sustained release of energy into your bloodstream, but bad carbs just flood your system with sugar. This causes your blood glucose levels to spike and crash, leaving you lethargic and craving another energy “hit” in the form of more sugar.
2. Leaves you constipated: Good carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, corn and whole grains are packed with dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy digestive system. If you forego these foods, you may experience constipation more frequently. And constipation has been shown to lead to other digestive issues too, like haemorrhoids, anal fissures and faecal incontinence.
3. Makes you feel bloated: Constipation has another unwanted side effect – it causes belly bloat. Without dietary fibre, waste matter takes longer to leave your system, leaving you feeling heavy and uncomfortable. The trapped gas may also cause abdominal pain and even headaches.
4. Deprives your body of important nutrients: Unrefined, whole carbohydrate foods are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as minerals like thiamine, folic acid, calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium. When you limit your intake of such foods, you deprive your body of these essential nutrients.
5. Gives you bad breath: A strict low-carbohydrate diet can help you shed a lot of fat if you stay on it long enough. During this fat burning process, called ketosis, your body releases certain chemicals called ketones. These ketones, which help fuel your brain, are what give your breath a characteristic unpleasant smell. While temporary for the most part and not exactly a health problem, bad breath can affect your social and personal life.
6. Dehydrates your body: As ketosis sets in, your body has to find a way to get rid of the ketones, and it does this through urination. This is why people on very low-carb diets tend to pee more frequently. Unless you replace the water that’s been lost, you’re likely to experience dehydration, a problem that’s associated with a loss of concentration, short-term memory loss and kidney stones.
7. Impacts your mood, making you irritable and stressed: Carbohydrates boost your body’s production of mood-regulating and stress-relieving hormones. If you deprive yourself of this important food group, you may have difficulty staying calm, and may find yourself snapping at others, or feeling sad and moody more often.
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