CARBOHYDRATES – BOOST ENERGY LEVELS AND BURN FAT
What are the differences between simple, complex and refined carbohydrates? Why are carbohydrates essential to our health and which are the best sources of carbohydrates for a healthy balanced diet?
WHAT ARE CARBOHYDRATES?
Often overlooked by today’s dietary fads, carbohydrates are actually one of the 6 groups of essential nutrients necessary for life – with proteins, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. Eating the Right Carbs Can Even Help You Lose Weight.
Carbohydrates are the main and ideal source of energy for the body. Fats and proteins can also be used for energy, but carbohydrates are more easily broken down into glucose and used for energy.
These can be complex carbohydrates (like starch) or simple carbohydrates (like fructose, lactose, and sucrose). Whatever, all carbohydrates are broken down in the body into glucose. They are then used to produce energy or stored in the form of glycogen (the body’s glucose reserve).
They are called carbohydrates because they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (CH2O). Carbohydrate is the scientific name for sugar.
A balanced diet is made up of carbohydrates, proteins and essential fatty acids. The problems arise when the balance is disturbed and we eat larger amounts of bad carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are chains of sugar molecules that can be classified as simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates have a short molecular structure containing only one or two sugar molecules (monosaccharides and disaccharides). They can be quickly broken down and absorbed by the body.
There are many types of simple carbohydrates, such as sucrose, fructose, and lactose, which are the scientific names for white sugar, fruit sugar, and dairy sugar, respectively.
complex carbohydrates have a longer molecular structure containing many sugar molecules in a chain (polysaccharides). Due to their more complex structure, they take longer to break down, resulting in a gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream and more stable and sustainable energy levels. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, vegetables and legumes.
THE ROLE OF CARBOHYDRATES IN THE BODY
Carbohydrates have five main roles in the body:
- Carbohydrates provide fuel for the body.
- They spare the use of protein as energy.
- They allow the metabolism of fats, the prevention of ketosis.
- Carbohydrates are important for brain function, influencing mood and memory. Studies have linked carbs to improved decision-making.
- They provide dietary fiber.
Glucose is the body’s preferred source of energy, and the only source of energy for red blood cells. When muscle cells are functioning anaerobically (without oxygen), they are 100% dependent on glucose. If glucose is not provided in the diet and the glycogen (glucose store) is depleted, the body breaks down muscle protein to maintain blood sugar levels and supply the brain with glucose.
5 fruits and vegetables a day…
You’ve all seen that commercial saying that you have to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day, in fact, it’s 5 fruits and/or 5 vegetables a day (learn more about the eat/move site). This baseline corresponds to a diet that recommends 130 grams per day for adults and children, the amount of carbohydrate needed to provide an adequate supply of glucose to the brain.
GOOD CARBS VERSUS BAD CARBS
Not all carbohydrates are good for us.
Whole grains and unrefined cereals are the best sources of carbohydrates. They are packed with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.
However, the refining process we use for most of our foods essentially destroys all of the health benefits of complex carbohydrates. Generally, the more carbohydrates are refined, the less beneficial they are to health.
Why is the refining process so bad?
Refined carbohydrates are foods like white flour, polished white rice, table sugar and processed grains. They are found in many manufactured foods, such as pasta, cookies and pastries.
Refined carbohydrates are devoid of nutrients. They go through a long refinement process that removes their fiber, phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins. They are often added with chemicals such as bleaching agents, preservatives, anticoagulants, etc.
Cooking white flour, white rice, and refined grains breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates called malt (or maltose). When you eat these foods, blood sugar levels rise rapidly, producing a temporary burst of energy. However, blood sugar levels subsequently drop and the body has difficulty in balancing blood sugar levels, creating a vicious cycle.
Repetitive rise and fall in insulin levels reduce the body’s ability to respond to insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels), causing a condition called insulin resistance.
When we eat foods high in refined carbohydrates, the body uses sugar in this way:
- 30% for immediate energy needs
- 30% stored in our liver or muscles for use during sleep
- 40% body fat stored long term
So unlike complex carbohydrates which are digested properly, refined carbohydrates are not fully utilized and are stored as fat.
We often experience symptoms of fatigue, nervousness, irritability, lack of concentration, sweating, headaches, digestive disorders and accelerated aging. In severe cases, poor food choices can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colon and prostate cancer.
Good carbs are usually:
- Lower in calories
- Rich in vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients
- Naturally high in fiber
- Low in sodium
- Low or even free of saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat
Bad carbs are usually:
- High in calories
- Very low nutrient content
- Low fiber content
- High in sodium
- High in saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fat
HOW TO SPOT A SUGAR IMBALANCE?
Here is a list of simple checks to see if your body is having trouble keeping your blood sugar level. These are the signs that you have a sugar imbalance:
- You have difficulty waking up in the morning even after seven hours of sleep.
- You need a cup of coffee or tea to get started.
- Daytime sleepiness and drowsiness, especially after meals
- Lack of energy to exercise and shortness of breath
- Urge to eat constantly
- Frequent night sweats or headaches
CARBONHYDRATES: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION
Is fructose, the sugar contained in fruits, bad for your health?
Most sugary plant foods are harmless. Fruits generally contain fructose, a simple sugar that does not need to be digested. However, since our cells only run on glucose, fructose must first be converted to glucose, making it a slow-release (low glycemic) sugar. This makes it a better form than sucrose and glucose. Fruits are packed with essential minerals and vitamins. Only a few fruits like grapes, bananas and some dried fruits contain glucose, the quick-release sugar.
SUMMARY – HOW TO GET THE RIGHT BALANCE OF SUGAR
To ensure a correct and healthy sugar balance in the body, it is important to eat more whole foods of the four main food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
These foods are high in complex carbohydrates which are gradually broken down throughout the day and provide a steady stream of energy. They are also low in glucose sugar and retain all their original vitamins and minerals.
Foods to Avoid
Refined and processed foods ; anything containing refined sugars like artificial sweeteners, table sugar, brown sugar, processed honey and syrup; refined white flour products such as white bread, cakes, donuts, cookies and pasta.
One last tip, Proceed by making small snacks but often, rather than making big meals. This reduces the amount of sugar released into your blood at any given time.