In dietary terms, carbohydrates can be considered as starches and sugars.  Starches are typically found in bread and pasta while foods like jam, candy, and sweets will typically contain sugar.  Although there have been several attempts to further classify carbohydrates into simple and complex, there is still ongoing debate about these categories even after many years.  Some nutritionists use the term “simple carbohydrate” to refer to sugars while anything else is labelled as a complex carbohydrate.

In recent years, the effects of carbohydrates on the human diet have come under intense media scrutiny.  In the late 1990s, the “Atkins Diet” became incredibly popular among people attempting to lose weight.  It was based on sharply reducing carbohydrate intake.  Suddenly, foods like bread, cereals, and candy were off-limits to dieters.  As the fad spread throughout North America and more people adopted the diet, nutritionists began to raise concerns about the effectiveness and safety of this sort of diet.

When carbohydrates enter the body, this causes the pancreas to produce insulin, which in turn regulates how the body stores or uses energy.  In a person who reduces their intake of carbohydrates, the pancreas makes less insulin.  As a result, the body is forced to look elsewhere for energy.  It starts to produce an organic compound known as ketones, which are used as an energy source.  For this reason, many low-carb diets are also known as ketogenic diets.  There is some debate in the scientific community whether or not this change in the body is safe.  Some doctors have argued that people in different cultures have followed a ketogenic diet for centuries without any problems.

Currently, some physicians are encouraging their patients to adopt a low-carb diet not only to lose weight but to curb the onset of diseases.  For example, one of the benefits of a low-carb diet is that it helps to reduce the amount of processed sugar in the blood and therefore significantly reduce insulin production, which helps to prevent diabetes.  Very recently, scientists have found that a ketogenic diet causes the brain to produce a kind of protein, which helps to mitigate the onset of epileptic seizures in people who suffer from epilepsy.  Some studies have also shown that a low-carbohydrate diet is at least as effective as other weight loss methods at combatting obesity.  As a result, many doctors have recommended this kind of diet to their patients along with careful observation and counseling to ensure their health and safety.

Did you enjoy this lesson? Then why not check out this lesson about Food Banks or this one on  Food Security?