Carbohydrates

The fact that carbs constitute a larger share of our daily meals means that the main issue lies in selecting the right carbs. There is an opinion that carbs generally make people fat. However, we all need carbs for energy and important body's functions. But eating the wrong carbs may have a detrimental impact. Now, let us talk about dietary carbohydrates.

What are dietary carbohydrates?

Dietary carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of foods. They yield 4 calories per one gram, serving as the main energy source for the functioning of body organs, movement, brain functioning, and body strength. Carbs are needed for a building of cartilage, bone, and the nervous system tissue. They are involved in the fat productions and the nonessential amino acids synthesis.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should make up 45-65 % of total daily calories intake. The daily amount of carbs for 2,200-calorie diet should be 990 to 1,430 calories or 247 to 375 grams. Dietary carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fibers (cellulose).

Simple sugars or simple carbs contain one (monosaccharides) or two (disaccharides) molecules of glucose. Fructose and glucose are monosaccharides. Sucrose, lactose, and maltose are disaccharides. Simple sugars can be derived from various sources either natural or non-natural. Examples of simple sugars: table sugar, honey, fruits, milk, and corn syrup.

Starches and fibers, on the other hand, are made of polymers of polysaccharides and can be found in legumes and grains. There is a difference between starches and fibers. In the human body, there are enzymes that can break down starchy foods into simple sugars. Unlike simple sugars, starchy carbohydrates are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream slowly, which helps to prevent a blood sugar spike.

There are no enzymes in the human body for the fiber digestion. Despite, fiber is non-digestible, it plays a very important role in the body.

Glycemic Index

This is a relative ranking of carbohydrates (from 0 to 100) to show how fast your body can convert the carbs in your food into glucose to be used in the body. The low glycemic index (GI) means that the carbs get digested, absorbed and metabolized slowly; they cause a slower and lower rise in blood sugar level. 55 or less is considered low GI, 56 to 69 is said to be medium, while 70 or higher is bad.

Earlier the glycemic index has been mostly a point of interest for the dietary management of type 2 diabetes.

However, glycemic index does not take into consideration type and quantity of carbs in your serving. How quickly and how much sugar is entering into the bloodstream depends on a variety of factors:

  • How many carbs are in your portion
  • How fast the carbs will raise the blood glucose
  • What is the amount of glucose will release.

Glycemic load (GL) provides a more accurate analysis of the carbs effect per serving. To find out a value of GL, multiple GI by carbohydrates quantity in grams, then divide by 100.

GL=GI*Carbs/100

For example, cantaloupe has a glycemic index 65 but serving size provides only 6 grams of carbs, and the glycemic load is only 4. A glycemic load of 20 and above is considered high while 10 and below is considered low.

This justifies the fact that glycemic load provides more relevant and precise results than the GI.

Types of dietary carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be grouped into three broad categories: simple, starchy and fibrous carbohydrates.

| Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates have a simple molecular structure which comprises only one or two sugar molecules. Glucose is the simplest form of dietary carbohydrates. The simple sugars are fructose (found in fruits), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (found in milk). Though not all simple sugars are bad, you are advised to go for the natural simple carbs found in fruits and milk - they are perfectly healthy.

Simple Sugar Carbohydrates

| Starchy carbohydrates

More complex chains of molecules, starchy carbs include peas, whole grains, and beans. Often, these complex starchy carbs are refined that means the high fiber parts of the grain have been removed. When these complex carbs are refined, the body treats them like simple sugars. Therefore, stick to unrefined complex carbohydrates like wholegrain flour and brown rice which still have the 'whole grain', the bran and the germ.

Starchy Carbohydrates

|Fibrous carbohydrates

Fibrous carbohydrates including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes are normally rich in minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, and other common nutrients. The high fiber content makes them quite hard to digest hence they move straight to the colon. They are essential for digestion and act as colon cleansers. Fibrous carbs are also very low in calorie. Funny enough, some examples like celery that contains fewer calories than needed for its digestion!

Fibrous Carbohydrates

"Bad" Versus "Good" Carbs

How can you distinguish "bad" from "good" carbs? Basically, "bad" is equal refined carbs and "good" is unrefined. Several studies have linked the refined carbs to cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes. These refined carbohydrates are said to cause blood sugar spikes that lead to cravings and hunger that compels you to eat more carbs and so on. Simple sugars especially added sugars contribute to the same negative effect.

Unrefined or whole carbs are associated with improved metabolic health and reduced risks of diseases. Whole food is rich in nutrients and fibers that are essential for both digestion and the body's growth and development. Being sensitive to some kinds of carbohydrates is a different story altogether. It only shows that your body doesn't go well with certain carbs.

Highlights

 Dietary carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fibers

 Low glycemic index means that the carbs get digested and absorbed slowly

 Glucose is the simplest form of dietary carbohydrates

 Fibrous carbohydrates are essential for digestion

 Stick to unrefined complex carbohydrates.

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