ALVIN HO is COO of VitaCare Medical Group and co-founder of FITivate Pte Ltd. He is a certified fitness professional and was named Singapore’s 10 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness aged 40 and under, by SBR. Alvin strongly believes in the adage, “Prevention is better than cure”, and strives to help individuals attain optimal fitness through living an active and healthy lifestyle.
Carbs. Fats. Protein. These are words that we often see daily. Yet, not many of us understand how they are actually processed by our bodies. In this article, I will explain these three nutritional elements and their importance to our bodily functions.
Carbohydrates are substances defined by empirical formulas such as C2(H2O)6, the fundamental building block for carbohydrates is known as a monosaccharide…. OK, I see that frown on your face, so I know this probably isn’t the definition you were looking for! Well I’m not a chemistry person myself, so let’s make this digestible – for our minds.
Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, which is subsequently absorbed into the bloodstream to be burned for energy. It is considered the primary source where the body obtains most of its energy from (ahead of fats and proteins) and can be broadly categorised into two main groups.
Simple carbohydrates: These are the carbs that are the quickest to be broken down by the liver and delivered into the blood system (in the form of blood glucose) for the purpose of energy production. These carbs can be found in honey, fruits, table sugar and those sweet desserts we seek comfort from.
Complex carbohydrates: Due to the complex molecular structure of these carbs, they take a relatively longer time to break down. This means that they are gradually introduced into the blood stream for energy generation. These carbs are typically found in starchy and fibrous foods such as whole grains, vegetables, nuts and potatoes.
Because this is the main source of energy derivation, it is important to determine the type of carbohydrates to consume to fit our various lifestyles. Essentially, our bloodstream can only hold a certain amount of blood glucose, so the excess will be stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen for use later. The glucose that overflows from these reserves will then be stored as fats by the body, which, unfortunately, makes up that dreaded “spare tyre” around the abdomen. The best way of controlling our carbs intake is to first understand our lifestyle. A person who leads a sedentary lifestyle and consumes too much simple carbs is bound to face weight issues, since most of these unused glucose will be rapidly stored as fats.
Fats are made up of fatty acids and glycerol which serve as a secondary source of energy. Fats are essential for normal bodily functions such as transporting fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) around the system. They make up part of the cell membrane and act as shock absorbers for the organs. Fats can also be broadly categorised into three groups, unsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats.
Unsaturated fats: These are the autobots of fats, they are the guys that will fight to sustain your health. This group consist of monosaturated and polysaturated fats which induces the formation and transportation of HDL – High Density Lipoprotein (good cholesterol) throughout the body. In a nutshell, HDL works to clean up the arteries, reducing possible risks of cardiovascular disease. These fats are typically found in foods such as olive/canola/peanut oil, seafood (such as fish) and vegetable oil (such as sunflower and soy).
Saturated and trans fats: These fatty decepticons will crush your health eventually. They are responsible for the formation and transportation of LDL – Low Density Lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) around your system. LDL has the tendency to be oxidised by free radicals, causing deposits to be formed in the arteries and this eventual accumulation will result in cardiovascular complications. Saturated fats are typically found in palm/coconut oil, meat and dairy products, while the more evil trans fats lie within processed foods such as hydrogenated vegetable oils (that are used to fry those yummy crispy chicken and chips).
In general, do scrutinise the nutritional make up of the food that you are about to consume. “Fat-free” does not mean that they are entirely healthy. This is because many of them can contain alarming amounts of simple carbohydrates such as sugar which can also lead to unnecessary weight gain, diabetes and induce the formation of LDL cholesterol. It is, thus, essential to control the intake of the quality of fats. Diets high in unsaturated fats will be optimal for the overall well-being.
Yes, this is the most essential ingredient to all body builders and people who want to gain a lean figure. Proteins are the basic building blocks for muscle. It helps the muscle cells grow, recover, repair and effectively absorb nutrients. I reckon you might have come across the terms “proteins” and “amino acids” but are unsure of their relation? Well, amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins. There are 21 different amino acids that make up protein and are categorised into three groups, namely: essential, conditionally-essential, and non-essential.
Essential amino acids: These nutrients cannot be produced by the body and need to be obtained through certain foods. These group consists of amino acids Valine, Methioine, Thyptophan, Theonine, Phenylalanine, Lysine, Leucine, Isoleucine. (Don’t worry, I can’t seem to get their pronunciation right either!)
Conditionally-essential amino acids: This group cannot be properly produced in adequate amounts if the body falls ill or undergoes abnormal stress. Amino Acids in this category include: Tyrosine, Taurine, Proline, Glutamine, Cysteine, Arginine and Histidine.
Non-essential amino acids: As the name suggests, they are not essential in our diet because the body can produce adequate amounts on its own. The amino acids in this group are Seine, Glycine, Glutamic acid, Aspartic acid, Aspargine and Alanine.
Protein found in food can be identified as complete and incomplete. Food stuff containing complete proteins basically mean that they have the entire array of amino acids present (e.g. whey protein, milk, eggs, chicken and beef ). Incomplete protein foods lack of one or some amino acids out of the 21 (e.g. vegetables, fruit, rice and bread).
In conclusion, it is vital to ensure a diet rich in complex carbs, unsaturated fats and protein. Stay away from over consuming simple carbs and saturated fats (especially trans fats). Most importantly, for a FITtening lifestyle, stay active and consume everything in moderation.