Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe????

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Another installment from Ed Miller

Having discussed protein in my Vegan Bodybuilding post, the next logical step would be to look at another main dietary component; carbohydrates.

There is a lot of talk about the positives and negatives of low carb diets.

Carbs come from a very wide range of sources, from pure refined sugar to vegetables. All carbohydrate will eventually break down into glucose (sugar). Glucose is one of the body’s primary energy sources (particularly in western society), so is vital for most bodily functions.

Weight Loss and other effects from Low Carb

Lower carb diets do tend to promote weight loss, but this is more a mark of our dependence upon sugars, rather than the food itself. Reducing refined carbs goes hand in hand with a healthier more balanced diet, so it would logically have body composition benefits. Reducing carbs also has serious health benefits, from improved cholesterol to reduced blood pressure. However, diets such as the Atkins, and more recently, the strict Paleo diet have very low carbohydrate intake, sources being mainly from non starchy vegetables.

From personal experience, eating so few carbohydrates did start to affect my daily life, feeling sluggish, and struggling to concentrate. The brain unlike most other organs relies almost exclusively on sugar. Eating less carbohydrate can start to affect attention. Having said that, eating too much sugar has exactly the same result (Why sleeping lions is such a short game at kids parties!). Low carb diets also deplete muscle glycogen stores; reducing training, performance and recovery.

The Diabetes effect

On the other hand… The western world is very carb dependant. The government guidelines suggest that 50+ % of your daily intake should be from carbohydrates. However, eating an excessive amount of carbohydrates can have very detrimental effects on the body. As well as increased risk of heart disease, obesity and releasing gas, eating a carb rich diet increases blood sugar levels, which can stress your pancreas. A combination of this stress and the weight gain associated with high carb diet can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity, and eventually diabetes. On a positive note, higher carb diets tend to promote muscle development, reduced ‘trans’ fat intake, and often contain more of certain vital vitamins.


To sum up, Carbohydrates tend to be portrayed as a negative food source; the villain of the piece, causing more problems than benefits, but without carbs, the body cannot continue to function correctly. For me, the most important change to make is adjusting the source of those carbohydrates. If a regular evening meal consists of jam on white toast, try mixing things up. A baked potato has far more nutrients, less insulin response, and (personal opinion) tastes better. Have a look at the carbs going into your body and see how much comes from processed sources.

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