Carbohydrates have been posed as the villain in many diets. But the truth is, the topic of carbohydrates is a much complex one that can’t just be simplified by the statement, “All carbs are bad.”
Carbohydrates are important for us because once converted to glucose, they are our body’s favorite source of fuel.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are organic compounds made up of sugar units which are composed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms. In total there are two types of carbs: Simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, are made up of one or two sugar units. Because of their structural simplicity they are absorbed very quickly by our body. Simple carbs are found in processed foods like syrups, cakes, cookies, candies and sodas. Food items such as most fruits also have simple carbs but they are good for you because despite having simple sugars, it is also loaded with Vitamins, minerals and fibers that nourishes our body.
When it comes to simple carbs, they come in two kinds: monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are made of one sugar unit. Examples include fructose and glucose. Disaccharides, on the other hand, are two sugar units linked up together. Examples of these include maltose, lactose and sucrose.
Complex carbohydrates, are composed of three or more sugar units linked together chemically. They contain much more nutrition in the form of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
There are two types of complex carbohydrates. These include oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. Oligosaccharides refer to a short chain of monosaccharides (no more than ten) that helps our body absorb certain minerals and to synthesize fatty acids. Polysaccharides refer to a more complex and long chain of monosaccharides and disaccharides. Examples of these include glycogen and starch.
Because of its structural intricacy, complex carbs take longer to get digested, which in turn prevents rapid rise and fall in the sugar levels. They need to first get broken-down to simple carbs to be absorbed by our body. This process is slower and provides us with a steady flow of energy for a longer period of time.
Simple vs. Complex: Which is best for a healthy diet?
In a nutshell: Complex carbs are better.
When you ingest any form of simple carbohydrate, for example a glass of fruit juice, this goes straight into our bloodstream and causes a spike in our blood sugar level, which gives us a rush of energy. This triggers our pancreas to produce copious amounts of insulin, which eliminates the excess blood sugar. This lowers our blood sugar level and we crave more sugar to refuel our body.
The problem doesn’t end there. The surge in insulin level lowers the production of a hormone called glucagon, which is the only hormone that initiate the release of stored fat to be burned for fuel. With no glucagon, your body fat remains locked in.
In short, simple carbohydrates, especially those found in processed goods can dramatically increase your weight. Always be on a look out for high fructose corn syrup…or ingredient ending with –ose. If you do find yourself craving something with simple sugar, stick to fruits and even then try to eat a protein based item along with it to slow down the digestion.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, gets broken down into glucose and gets stored in our liver and muscles as glycogen, which is then burnt as fuel. When you seek out complex carbs, be sure that they are not processed – bleached, refined or enriched- in any way.
Where to get the best carbs?
When it comes to carbs, type is more important than amount.
Carbohydrates of any kind provide 4 calories per gram, and according to the dietary guidelines, our diet should be comprised of 45-65% carbohydrates. When seeking carb sources, look for items that contain naturally occurring carbs that also contains high amount of fibers.
Health items with the best carbs include brown rice, whole grains, sweet potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables and asparagus. The healthiest carbohydrate food item is one that is unprocessed, and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibers and other essential phytonutrients.
Here are the sugars to avoid, or highly limit from your diet- Brown sugar, corn syrup, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, invert sugar, malt syrup, raw sugar, sucrose and syrup.
Just as other macronutrients like fat and protein, carbohydrates are very important for the efficient functioning of your body. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. A carb free diet, will leave you sluggish. Rather than eliminating it, focus on including good quality carbs to your diet.
In the comments below, tell me: Have you ever tried going completely carb free? If yes, please share your experience.