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What happens when I eat carbs?

To keep your blood sugar levels within a normal range, your body and your hormones are constantly monitoring the level of glucose in your blood. Maintaining a consistent supply and level of blood sugar is critical for cellular activities and the healthy functioning of your organs. If your blood sugar gets too low then you will start to feel tired and weak and after a while your body will start to shut down (this is called hypoglycemia). On the other hand, if your blood sugar levels get too high you can damage the vessels that supply the blood to your organs resulting in increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems and nerve problems (this is called hyperglycemia).

When your blood sugar levels rise too high then hormones are secreted to signal to your cells that they need to absorb the excess glucose and either use it for energy or store it for later use. Once your cells are packed full then the excess glucose in your blood can be converted into a complex carbohydrate called glycogen (a polysaccharide) and stored in the liver and muscles for quick energy access later. The body can store up to about two thousand calories, equivalent to 90 minutes of intensive exercise, in the form of glycogen which can then easily be turned back into glucose if needed for a burst of energy or just to get you through the lull in the afternoon.

The trouble with eating too many carbs is that you may still have glucose left over after the cells and glycogen stores are full. The body is an efficient machine and so if there is an abundance of glucose in the bloodstream, it will use that for energy instead of breaking down your glycogen and fat deposits. So, if you are continuously overeating carbohydrates, you will start to tilt your metabolism towards burning blood sugar instead of fat.

All this carb overloading and excess glucose poses another problem for the body. If there is space available in the liver and muscle cells, they will happily store the glucose as glycogen, however if they are already full then the liver converts the extra glucose into a type of saturated fat called palmitic acid, which can then bind together in groups of three and a glycerol to form triglycerides. These two processes – the preferential burning of carbs over fat for fuel and the creation of triglycerides – lead to increased body fat and increased triglycerides and free fatty acids in the blood, neither of which is desirable nor healthy.

High triglyceride levels in your blood are often a sign that you may be at an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, vision problems and nerve problems. So, it is really important to try and hit your carb targets each day if you want to achieve any weight and fitness goals. And as you become more metabolically reliant on sugar for energy, you start to eat more sugary carbs to keep you feeling ‘normal’ which results in more glucose in the blood that needs to be stored. This in turn can lead to a type of hormonal dysfunction called insulin resistance.

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