For the last 11 weeks (at the point I’m writing this blog) I’ve been following a ketogenic diet which is a low carb – high fat diet. This diet implies that you get 75-80% of your dietary calories from fat, 15-20% from protein and 5-10% from carbohydrates.
When I was talking with a friend about my way of eating and trying to explain how it works and why it works, the first question I got was:
“- But Irina, what are carbohydrates?”
Well, this question made me realised that sometimes there is no harm in going back to the basics. So, I’m planning to write a series of posts under the main title “Love the fat” that will break down and explain the low carb – high fat diet, where I will lay the foundation and also describe my journey with this diet.
But first things first. Let’s go back to the basics…
Micro and Macro nutrients
The nutrients are split in macronutrients and micronutrients
- Are those nutrients that the body needs in bigger amounts.
- They provide calories to the body for energy and to grow.
- There are only 3 macronutrients:
- Are those nutrients that the body needs in smaller amounts.
- They play an essential role in the many metabolic processes, working together with the macronutrients to keep the body healthy and functioning well.
- They are divided in:
- Trace elements
Final thought: carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients.
- Carbohydrates can be
- Are made of sugar molecules that are strung together in complex chains
- All the carbs that we eat are broke down into our body/digested into simple sugar (glucose) before they are absorbed by the body.
- Glucose is the main (well, one of the main… 🙂 ) sources of energy that our cells uses to produce energy.
We can also divide the carbohydrates into another category:
- Refined carbohydrates or simple carbs
- Can come from sugars/fructose or grains that are striped from fibrous and nutritious parts (aka empty calories)
- The main dietary sources of refined carbs are white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals and added sugars and they are also added to all sorts of processed food.
- Unrefined, unprocessed – rich in fibre, minerals, vitamins, and various beneficial plant compounds coming from vegetables, legumes, fruits etc.
So, let’s see the simplified path that carbs have into our body:
- We eat carbs, simple or complex, refined or unrefined…
- ALL the carbs are broken down into simple carbs (glucose) by our digestive system
- The glucose is absorbed into our blood stream -> blood sugar
- When the blood sugar increases, the pancreas secrets the insulin hormone
- Insulin transports the glucose to the cells for instant energy
- Once those cells are “feed”, if there is some blood sugar into our system, insulin stores some glucose into our muscle and liver under the form of glycogen (used by the body as an energy reserve). We can store only 400-500g of glycogen in our body (~1600 – 2000 calories).
- Once the “tanks” that are storing glycogen are filled, if there is still some blood sugar into our blood, under the influence of insulin, the excess glucose is transformed into fat (triglycerides) by the liver through a process called lipogenesis (lipo = fat & genesis = creation) and stored into the fat cells
- Each gram of glycogen is stored with a couple of grams of water. When you start with a new diet, usually either you go on a low carb diet or a restricted calorie diet resulting in an energy deficit for your body => the body will use the glycogen reserve.
- When the glycogen is released from the “tanks”, the water that was stored with it is also released. That’s the main reason a lot of people are seeing an impressive weight loss at the beginning of the diet.
- Once the glycogen reserve is low… oh boy, things starts to get nasty: hitting the plateau, getting cravings, low energy levels, headache, etc…
Final thought: if we eat too many carbohydrates and the blood sugar is (constantly) high, the excess glucose is stored into the fat cells as fat (triglycerides).
Refined carbohydrates are broken down easy and absorbed into the blood stream rapidly.
- They create a spike in the blood sugar levels (will generate an increase amount of energy).
- The body sees this blood sugar spike as dangerous and the pancreas is forced to create a big/bigger amount of insulin to decrease that dangerous blood sugar
- The blood sugar is dropped rapidly => resulting in a very low blood sugar => resulting in low energy levels, hunger and cravings
Unrefined, unprocessed – because they are rich in fibre, they are broken and absorbed slowly
- The blood sugar levels are steady, growing slowly and the pancreas is producing moderate amount of insulin
- Constant level blood sugar and of energy levels
Final thought: Refined carbs cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. This is followed by a drop in blood sugar, hunger and cravings.
There are many things to say about carbohydrates, but for the moment we will stop here.
Until the next time,