Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (2023)

Our bodies need a ton of nutriënts to stay healthy. A lot of people don’t know that much about what they put into their body and won’t immediately feel the difference of not eating right. Or So they think…

Our energy levels, pains, little ailments and our overall feel-good greatly depend on our lifestyle. We might not feel the difference until we actually change the way we live. on the long term, we can fight diseases or create them ourselves. We can’t control everything and genes play a huge part, but we do control our own lifestyle.

I’ll make more of posts about how and what I eat based on information I gathered, but first the basics: what are the most important nutriënts and how do they work? I’ll write what each nutriënt does to your body, what happens if you have or don’t have a sufficiënt amount of them and where to get them. I’ll post my sources in the titles or after a paragraph. First, I’m going to write three posts about ‘the big 3’. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Next, I will focus on vitamins and minerals because that opens a whole other chapter.

For some people, this might not contain much new information and my later topics might be more to your appeal. For others, this might be a clear overview of the basics.

We all know the sayings: Sleep eight hours a day, drink enough water, eat your vegetables, don’t eat too fast, too fat or too many calories. But it helps to know WHAT exactly we need and why it’s important so you can choose your habits for your own needs. Learn to feel your own body and use your knowledge to feel better.

Some nutriënts are called ‘essential’ nutriënts, because our body needs them daily, but is not capable of composing them out of other nutriënts. That’s why we should make sure we ingest enough essential nutriënts. Categories of essential nutrients include vitamins, dietary minerals, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. carbs are not counted as ‘essential’ but are the main energy source for your body. a balanced diet gets half of the energy out of carbs, one third out of fats and the rest out of proteins.

Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (1)
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One of the big three: carbohydrates or Carbs

Everybody knows the big three by name. They are called: Fats, proteïns and carbs. They’re famous for providing the energy in your body and are the macronutriënts. Almost every diet evolves around them. If you’re already a ‘foody’, this won’t be very new to you.

Carbs are the main source of energy for the body. It’s the fastest and favourite way for the body to provide fuel. That’s why we love fast carbs so much. They are needed for the central nervous system, your muscles, your cells, and your brain. The last one is the reason why you’d become cranky when hungry. Not eating enough in general leads to less memory and bad moods and low energy, because of low blood sugars. fat and proteïns can also be converted into sugar by the body. So it’s not the only source, but the fastest. ( source)

The most important thing to know is there are two kinds of carbs. fast or simple carbs and complex carbs. They have a different Chemical structure and are digested differently. simple carbs are digested and absorbed more quickly and easily than complex carbs. That’s mainly because the chemical structure of carbs is made out of ‘chains of sugar’. Longer, more complex chains take longer to break down and process for your body. Your body has to work harder and the energy is provided more consistently. Simple carbs, with smaller chains, provide energy quicker and cause bursts of energy because they are absorbed and processed more easily. (source)

While eating a fast sugar could be good if you’re low on energy ( for intense sports for example), Simple carbs can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and sugar highs. Your body will then overcompensate with insulin to bring the blood glucose level down. Those spikes are rapidly followed by low blood sugars, causing you to be hungry, sleepy and moody again.

It’s best to focus on getting primarily complex carbs in your diet, including whole grains and vegetable. Do keep in mind that while complex carbs provide more sustained energy, when you eat primarily carbs, even those complex carbs will eventually lead to a sugar high, then sugar low, caused by insulin overcompensation and will leave you tired. Don’t eat too much food high in carbs and low in other nutriënts ( pasta, potatoes, bread…)

This brings us to the next recommendation. Try to combine carbs with other nutriënts such as proteïnes and healthy fats. Carbs that contain fibre (like brown rice) or protein (like legumes) raise blood glucose more slowly and keep you full longer. White bread, rice and pasta are better too avoid. They cause bigger fluctuation in blood sugars because they do not contain the proteïns and fibres needed for a slow rise in blood sugar. (source)

So the lesson here: Don’t avoid carbs, but eat complex ones and combine with other nutrients, because it’s the quickest energy source. there are other energy sources, so let your body work a little for its sugar instead. (source)

Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (2)

To avoid

  • White bread, pasta, white rice
  • Fast sugars: candy, syrup, sugary cereals, cakes…

To moderate

  • Whole-grain pasta: pasta is made of whole-wheat flour that has been pulverized.with smaller particles are digested more rapidly, leading to greater increases in blood sugar. Therefore the benefits are not the same as those of intact whole grains, BUT It is still lower in calories and higher in satiety-boosting fibre than refined pasta.

combining your whole-grain pasta with healthy proteïns and fats will make it a more healthy option: Whole-wheat spaghetti with salmon, lemon and basil. Pasta salad with feta, olives, tomatoes and kale. recipes here

  • Potatoes: They do have health benefits but are high in carbs. It’s best to leave the skin on because a lot of the vitamins and minerals are contained in or just below the skin. baking it ensures less loss of vitamins then cooking. steaming is also a good option. the eyes of sprouted potatoes should be removed. They are a member of the nightshade family and those contain toxins. (source)

to get into your diet:

  • Whole grains: Whole, unprocessed grains like oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice.
  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas
  • Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans, carrots, asparagus, kale, …
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, pecan, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseed, sesame seeds, quinoa etc.
  • Fruits: Apples, berries, kiwi, mango, banana, …
Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (3)
Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (4)

Fibres are also carbs

Fibres are also a sort of carbohydrate. They are indigestible but have another important mission that other carbs don’t have.Fibres are classified into three big groups. soluble fibre, insoluble fibre and resistant starch. All three make you feel fuller for longer, slow down digestion, help to lower cholesterol, help create a healthy gut ( bacterial flora), help prevent bowel cancer and have a role in preventing constipation and cardiovascular diseases.

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Soluble fibre helps to slow the emptying process and passage in the stomach and small intestines, which helps you feel fuller and causes a more gradual intake of nutriënt such as proteïnes, carbs and fats. This helps contain more stabilised blood glucose levels just as explained earlier.

Resistant starch is a type of soluble fibre. It gets fermented, but not in the small intestine. It proceeds to the large intestine instead where it can assist in the production of good bacteria and improves bowel health. The most important sources are cooked and cooled potatoes and rice.

Insoluble fibre also helps to slow down your digestion and helps to prevent constipation. It absorbs water to help to soften the contents of our bowels and support regular bowel movements. Drinking enough water is therefore also recommended. (source 1, source 2, source 3 my book used in my nutrition classes during nursing school ‘voeding bij gezondheid en ziekte written by Nelleke Stegeman)

Fibre should be integrated into your daily routine, knowing that healthy digestion and bowel movement is good for the absorption of nutriënts and your physical and mental health. Yes! That’s right, your mental health correlates with your intestines and thus with what you eat on a daily basis! Your food determines which bacteria ( good or bad) develop there (source)

Foods that contain a lot of fibre are already listed in the ‘ get into your diet’-list for carbs. Food-groups that contain a lot of fibre are fruit, nuts, legumes, vegetables and whole-grains. Eating a daily healthy dose of these should be sufficiënt. For me, eating more of these helped me a lot. (source 1, source 2)

Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (5)

And now a little wake-up call for the smoothie-addicts. Although you read about the benefits of smoothies everywhere, you should only be drinking them occasionally or with the right ingrediënts. blending smoothies destroys the insoluble fibres. The soluble fibres alone can’t form enough of a barrier to slow down your digestion, leaving the path open for your body to immediately absorbing all the sugars and sending your body into a sugar rush. Drinking a smoothie can be compared to drinking a soda full of sugar. It contains a lot of calories and you also chew less, which makes you drink bigger amounts and more calories.

On a side note, it does still contain a lot of healthy vitamins and minerals, which still makes a smoothy somewhat healthy and you can throw in some ingredients you want to make sure you ingest, but a smoothie habit is not nearly as good as eating the same amount in its solid form. That’s why when you make smoothies, don’t throw in too much fruit and get some vegetables, proteïnes and a little bit of plant-based fats in there. Also, consider a smoothy as a full meal and not a side meal. Don’t eat another full meal next to a smoothie ( source1, source2, source3, source 4, source 5).

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I’ll do a special about smoothies and good recipes. I just only bought a blender a few weeks ago and I need to still try all the ‘more healthy’ recipes without overdoing it on my weekly smoothie intake. I don’t often do smoothies for the obvious reasons stated earlier.

Know your Nutriënts: The basics of a healthy lifestyle. Carbs (6)

Sugar highs

We already know that high sugar intakes make you more hungry faster, less energetic, moody and less motivated. But do we now really know how disastrous sugar is to our health? The answer is no. It may be scary but, high sugar levels are essentially toxic. To make it worse it’s addicting because it releases dopamine in your brain (source)

High sugar intake is linked to a higher risk of depression. Furthermore, it causes an inflammatory reaction in your body. This causes a chain of reactions in your body that’ll make you feel generally miserable. It causes joint pain, can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, makes your skin age faster, causes breakouts, high blood pressure, bad arteries and you even have higher chances of kidney and heart problems,… So every time we eat a high carb or simple sugar meal, our body goes thru a toxic burst. Furthermore, long excessive-high sugar intake can cause liver and pancreas issues and can cause diabetes. (source)


The negative effects of high blood sugars can be seen most clearly in poorly regulated diabetics because they often have high blood sugar without well-adjusted or regularly taken medication. this is due to their insulin not being produced by the pancreas (type 1) or insulin resistance because the body is unable to use it effectively (type2). Type 1 is an auto-immune disease people are born with, but an unhealthy lifestyle can contribute to and cause type 2 diabetes (source ).

according to the national diabetes federation unregulated diabetics Consistently high blood glucose levels can lead to serious diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, nerves and teeth. In addition, people with diabetes also have a higher risk of developing infections. In almost all high-income countries, diabetes is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation ( source)

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How does insulin work

Insulin helps move glucose from your bloodstream into your cells. It is produced in the pancreas. Your cells use glucose for energy. Your body stores any extra sugar in your liver, muscles, and fat cells. Once glucose moves into your cells, your blood sugar level goes back to normal. Low blood sugar prompts a different cluster of cells in your pancreas to release another hormone called glucagon.

Glucagon makes your liver break down the stored sugar, known as glycogen, and release it into your bloodstream. Insulin and glucagon alternate their release throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels steady. ( source)


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