Healthy Pyramid Diet (Part 5 – Carbohydrate)

1. Facts and Fallacies of Carbohydrates

I bet most of us have heard something similar to below once in a while:

You set yourself up for a energetic and productive day once you consume sufficient carbohydrates that gets your body.

Carbohydrates provide me with ‘quick energy’ and perks me up during the morning, when I feel especially down.

I love carbos. They give me the sugar rush I need whenever I’m low on energy.

(Below) Taken from Singapore Health Promotion Board website:

Protein-rich food such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs … are placed at the third level of the pyramid. This means that while we need these nutrient-rich food, the number of servings recommended is smaller than that for grain food, fruit, and vegetables.

Seeing how most people can’t get by without their bowl of cereal every morning and others, their mug of milo or coffee, I’m therefore inclined to say:

Singapores generally feel that carbohydrates take priority amongst all other macronutrients and therefore, should include it the most in their diet.

Is this always the case? Must carbohydrates always take precedence over other nutrients? Is it possible for us to remain at a constant weight while eating equal ratios of protein or even *gasp*, fat?

The answer is “Yes.”

Firstly, some research as to why starchy carbs are not the best way to keep your energy elevated for sustainable periods of time.

Referring to the graph below,

1) Red line will denote your blood glucose level after you eat a bowl of oatmeal.

Your energy level is elevated to a level lower than what high GI food can cause, but it stays up much longer which is what you want- so it can provide you with sustainable energy to last you till your next meal so you will not experience hunger pangs, loss of concentration or any other symptoms of low blood glucose.

2) Green line will denote the level of your blood glucose after you consume a bowl of crispy pebbles cornflakes for breakfast.

The consequence of too much sugar

Yes, your energy level does rise, but for how long? In a few (an) hour(s), your energy level will crash and leave you feeling drained and tired. You end up losing focus.

On a separate note:

You can most certainly stay alive without eating any carbohydrates (and I really mean ZERO carbohydrates). As referenced before, carbohydrates are not essential nutrients. However, if we exclude carbohydrates from our diet, it will be at the peril of our health.

Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients in humans: the body can obtain all its energy from protein and fats

However, they are a fantastic source of nutrients, for example:

A whole grain

  1. Fiber (Any leafy or cruciferous vegetable, spinach, broccoli etc
  2. Phytochemicals i.e beta-carotene, lycopene (Any colourful vegetable like tomatoes etc)
  3. Antioxidants (Berries, kale, cabbage, grapes)
  4. Vitamins and Minerals (Citrus fruits rich in Vitamin C and spinach is rich in iron etc)
  5. Alkaline properties (Help to reduce acidity, improve cell function)

Most starchy carbs pale in comparison in all the above 5 factors. Even whole grains contain considerately less total fiber than say, an apple or cabbage. Another important factor is just how many percent of the food you are eating is whole-grain? Whole grain encapsulates all 3 components (Germ, Bran and Wheat) and some (if not, ALL) the whole-grain food you are eating is actually partially refined

Not all whole-grain is the same...

They also lack phytochemicals which is unique only to fruits and vegetables (exception: legumes like soy, more on that later). Phytochemicals are important because they impact everything from your hormonal status, to your disease risk to your ability to fight off colds and infections.

Bread, pasta and starchy carbohydrates (yes, that includes your multi-grain/enriched/high fiber) breads/rice generally contain MORE carbohydrates, are easier to break down into sugar and contain LESS nutrients (Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants etc) than Vegetables and Fruits.

If you want lose weight and increase your metabolism, this is NOT what you want. Why? Simply because fibrous carbs are generally LESS CALORIE DENSE but MORE NUTRIENT DENSE than simple carbohydrates

Less calorie dense: Contains less calories per unit weight. You can eat more of it and it will give you same amount of calories even when you eat less of something calorie dense

Nutrient dense: Contains more nutrients per unit weight. You get a lot more nutrients in when you eat something nutrient dense, making you full faster, preventing bingeing and overeating.

Refer to the apple and potato chips example. for a more detailed explanation.

So I hope I have established the ground that for the sole purpose of filling your stomach/keeping you full, Fruits and Vegetables are vastly superior to eating starchy carbs such as Bread, Pasta and Rice.

Hence, the bottom of the healthy pyramid should not be comprised of starchy carbs.

Beware of these possible whole grain imposers

2. How one can use carbohydrates to suit his dietary requirements and lifestyle

If you are very active and take part in many physically strenuous sports and activities, it will do you good if you eat a variety of carbohydrates and that includes starchy carbs.

To kickstart your day, eat mostly fibrous carbs (in bold below). This is to sustain your energy level throughout the morning till your next feeding. Choice of protein is up to you, it would be good if you use a slower-acting protein though, so it can be slowly released into the body.

A good example would be:

A bowl of oatmeal with a scoop of protein powder (casein or whey would be fine) and blueberries (feel free to add in raw coconut milk or organic milk to give texture)

Good choice. Keeps you fully, healthy and energised.

VS a bad example:

  1. 4 slices of toast
  2. Kaya / Chocolate spread (Nutella) / Some shitty peanutbutter brand (hydrogenated, salted etc)
  3. Fruit Juice

If you happen to be train in the morning, you may want to include some fast-acting carbs (in bold below) in your diet. They can break down into glucose and enter your bloodstream fast enough to be used for energy during training.

A good example would be:

1) A protein milk shake

  • 2 scoops protein powder
  • Organic milk
  • Banana
  • Yoghurt (optional)
  • Nuts / unsalted and non-hydrogenated natural peanut butter (optional)

2) Alternatively, whole egg omelettes sandwiched between whole grain bread with lots of vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a dash of olive oil) would be sweet too!

VS a bad choice

Bad choice. Full of crap and marketing lies. Don’t eat this shit.
  1. Typical 3 in 1 Coffee (Wayyy too much sugar)
  2. Typical Breakfast cereal with milk (Breakfast cereal contains too much hidden sugar and too little protein/fat to provide sustainable energy – your energy level will crash a few hours later)
  3. Any sports drink (You don’t need it now)

After your physical activites/training, always be sure to have a post-workout meal/drink which should ideally consist of fast-acting simple protein (whey) and starchy or simple carbs. I will not go too in-depth about protein in this post but  protein is important because it helps repair your muscles (weakened and damaged from training hard).

A good post-workout meal example would be:

Rice doesn't have to be white to taste awesome

  1. Rice (unpolished/uunrefined/wild would be good) / Pasta from whole grains is acceptable too / Any other whole grains like barley, quinoa etc)
  2. Chicken Breast / Salmon / Tuna or Any organic poultry or cold water fatty fish
  3. Lots of fruits and vegetables (to replenish all the lost minerals and nutrients)
  4. Coconut water (rich in electrolytes, to refresh and hydrate yourself after a workout) OR any sports/isotonic drink (watch the sugar in it though)

VS a bad choice. Generally quite hard because any nutrition is useful post workout. However, some exceptions:

  1. Any oily greasy meal with zero/little protein and fast acting carbs
  2. Hot dogs / Fried Chicken (Any thing that is deep fried or overly processed)
  3. Any meal/food containing excessive sugar without at least some nutrients (sweet stuff like ice kachang)
  4. Any sugary beverage that promises to restore your body with electrolytes (soft drinks etc)

Fast-acting carbs help you to replenish your glycogen stores (which breaks down to give glucose, providing you with energy) and also restores your body’s energy balance. After training, your body will be in a state of energy deficit. Eating carbohydrates helps regenerate energy in the body so the body will not generate energy from undesirable sources such as burning your muscle protein to increase energy input (Imagine burning your muscles away just to provide energy, it defeats the purpose of going to the gym does it not?)

Why different people require different types and quantity of carbohydrates to ensure optimal health.

Some people wonder why they workout/train/run so much and yet seem to gain weight at an alarming rate just by eating rice/carbohydrates and there are those people who do not exercise at all and eat a lot of carbohydrates but still remain woefully skinny.

How your body handles/metabolises carbohydrates generally depend on the following factors:

  1. Age
  2. Body type (Ectomorph/Mesomorph/Endomorph)
  3. Activity level
  4. Type of physical activity
  5. Genes (Asians tend to have an easier time handling carbs)
  6. Most importantly, the kind of carbohydrates

These factors are intertwined meaning the function of any one variable is also influenced if other variables change. For example, we assume that older people have lower levels of physical activity.

1) Age

Ever heard of the saying or personally observed it yourself? “The older one gets, the slower his/her metabolism will be and the fatter he/she will get”

Is it true that older people cannot handle carbohydrates as well as children and teenagers? Yes and no.

In general, the older the person is, the lower his/her level of physical activity. I cannot imagine my grandmother (pushing her 80s) running about the field, chasing after a football.

However, life loves an occasional parody. Surprise surprise, there are some 70 year old nannies running distances that will make most seasoned ultramarathoners cry and there are also some children that make pigs look underweight.

So does the statement still stand? You decide. (Author’s note: Though of course I have my reservations when it comes to their choice of exercise, but who’s to judge? They certainly look healthier than 99.99% of the people in their age group)

2) Body type

A mesomorph would arguably have the highest metabolic rate amongst all 3 body types since he/she has the most muscle mass (which increases the Resting Metabolic Rate – RMR). RMR contributes to one’s metabolism.

Also, a mesomorph tends to eat more than owing to his bigger size and high metabolism and this causes his Thermic effect of Eating (TEF) to increase, thus revving up his metabolism even higher.

Hence, a mesomorph would most likely be able to get away with eating a box of doughnuts without gaining too much fat.

However, one’s appearance is also a function of other environmental factors and upbringing (active and healthy family) so try not to hold on to any preconceived bias or judgement.

I did warn you you about your preconceived judgemental biasness

3. Activity level

If you are physically active, your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) increases and does, increases your energy expenditure, allowing one to eat more food/carbs in order to equalise this deficit.

If you are not physically active, chances are your metabolism will not be elevated and hence, you expend less energy. Thus food you eat will be more readily deposited as fat.

4. Types of physical activity

Research has shown and proven interval training to be superior in terms of fat loss as compared to constant state cardio.

Hence, if one were to run intervals for 20minutes as opposed to someone else who runs at a constant pace, he or she will definitely burn more fat.

I will post an article about interval training soon. Keep posted.

5. Genes

Genes may affect the body’s reaction to carbohydrates. Asians seem to handle carbohydrates better since we eat it (rice/porridge) on a more frequent basis. However, I have not read any definitive research about this yet.

Otherwise, ectomorphs and mesomorphs tend to metabolise carbohydrates faster, with the former burning it off too quickly and the latter either burning all of it off too or being able to retain some of it to replenish his glycogen stores

Endomorphs have a harder time though. If they do not watch what they eat, chances are they will put on some fat.

6. Lastly, but definitely not the least important, what kind of carbohydrates are we talking here?

Jane may eat a hell lot more carbohydrates than Jennie and still not put on weight if what she is eating bears resemblance to the foods below:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Celery
  3. Kale
  4. Spinach
  5. Fruits
  6. Unpolished whole-grain wild rice
  7. Oatmeal
  8. Whatever that is colourful (naturally), grows from the soil and isn’t too sweet

You get the picture hopefully.

Oh right, this concludes the carbohydrate section of the healthy pyramid diet series. Stay tuned to the next section on fats!

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This entry was posted in Carbohydrate, Diet, eating well, fast food, Fitness, glycemic index, healthy pyramid diet, Introduction, Nutrition, Sugar, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Healthy Pyramid Diet (Part 5 – Carbohydrate)

  1. sofyansahrom says:

    A better explanation of Carbohydrate. Good. Though they are many literature out (not sponsored/funded by food companies) that may even suggest otherwise. Do read it and let me know if you want a heads up on it.

    Of course, I must admit I am only an uneducated Malay Man (according to the government belief) who is unable to converse in English properly (according to MP SHT belief’s), so I might not be able to help you much

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