Carbohydrates are energy giving foods that are found in fruits, vegetables and several foods. They are helpful in storing energy, building macromolecules, and sparing protein and fat for other uses.
Dr Paul Kasenene, a nutritionist at Wellcare Centre, says most of the carbohydrates in the foods you eat are digested and broken down into glucose before entering the bloodstream. The main purpose of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients other than fats and proteins and the main types of dietary carbohydrates are sugar and starch that are converted into glucose and fibre.
“When you deprive yourself of energy-providing glucose, your body breaks down stored fat and the symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, dehydration, bad breath, loss of appetite, constipation, lethargy may mean you have a carbohydrate deficiency,” Dr Kasenene says.
Some people do better with a lower carbohydrate intake, while others do just fine eating plenty of carbohydrates. The limit to carbohydrate intake depends on numerous factors such as age, gender, metabolic health, physical activity, food culture and personal preference.
Dr William Lumu, a diabetologist at Mengo Hospital, says, “People with obesity, those who want to lose weight, those with a low metabolic rate and type 2 diabetes can have life-saving benefits with restricted carbohydrates because these are some of the leading causes of death globally.
He adds that they are better off taking plenty of proteins instead. People on weight loss programmes are also advised to reduce their carbohydrate intake. However, if you are just a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then there is probably no reason for you to avoid carbohydrates. Naturally lean people or those that are physically active can include as much carbohydrates as they can.
People who are trying to restrict carbohydrates must be careful with whole grains, legumes, tubers and high-sugar fruits.
Consumption of refined carbohydrates is associated with health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. This is because they usually lack essential nutrients and are empty in calories. They also have added sugars, which is associated with a lot of chronic diseases.
“Sugary beverages such as soda, sweetened fruit juices, white bread, other commercially available breads, pastries, candies, chocolates, potato chips, cookies and cakes are unhealthy because they are very high in sugar and refined wheat. These foods may be fine in moderation for some people, but many will do best by avoiding them as much as possible,” says Dr Lumu.
Unprocessed carbohydrate foods are very healthy and contain a lot of healthy nutrients and fibre. Eating healthy carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains improve metabolic health and a lower risk of disease.
Generally, carbohydrates that are in their natural, fibre-rich form are healthy, while those that have been stripped of their fibre are not.
Carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient and many people can survive on a carbohydrate-free diet. However, many carbohydrate-rich plant foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients that boast your immunity.
• Vegetables: All of them. It is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.
• Whole fruits: Apples, bananas, strawberries
• Whole grains: Choose grains that are truly whole, as in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice
• Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes
• Legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, peas
• Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts
• Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds