Carbohydrates or carbs, has been vilified by some popular diets blaming it for body fat and excess weight. Others have come to its defense and rightfully so. The end result has been much confusion about carbohydrates whether its bad, good, no carb, slow carb, good carb, bad carb, etc.
So, what exactly are Carbohydrates?
If you want to go all scientific about it, you can check out this wiki page. But for most of us, what we really want to know is what it means and what it does and how does it affect us. All carbohydrates are made up from sugars. There are a number of different types of sugars, but in the body all carbohydrate metabolism converts sugar to glucose, our body's preferred energy source. Glucose is the main sugar present in many foods different sugars such as fructose in fruit, lactose in milk, galactose, sucrose in sugar as well as others. Most sugars are digested and absorbed and converted to glucose. The ones that are not is what we call fiber. In short, carbs provide most of the energy we need to go about our daily lives. This includes some pretty important functions like heartbeat, breathing, digestion to name a few.
Carbohydrates are grouped into two main categories - simple and complex
So, What are Simple Carbohydrates and how does it affect me?
Simple carbohydrates are quick energy sources, but they do not usually supply any other nutrients or fiber. This includes sugars such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose). Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly because the individual sugars are ready to be absorbed immediately plus digestive enzymes have easy access to the bonds in the paired molecules. Their rapid absorption increases the chances of sugar converting to fat but only if there is an abundance of energy absorbed. Because our cells usually do not require that amount of energy at that time, the sugar must either be converted to glycogen ( sugar storage within cells ) or converted to fat.
So, What are Complex Carbohydrates and how does it affect me?
Complex carbohydrates or starch are chains of three or more sugars bonded together to form a chain. Foods with the most complex carbohydrates include legumes, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, rice and grain products. Other vegetables such as green beans, broccoli and spinach contain less starch, but they have more fiber. Complex carbohydrates takes longer to digest and the slow absorption of sugars provides us with a steady supply of energy and limits the amount of sugar converted into fat
Which carb is better?
In the past, it was thought that complex carbohydrates were thought to be the healthiest to eat. As it turns out, its a little more complicated than that. When you eat a food containing carbohydrates, the digestive system handles all carbohydrates the same way — it breaks them down (or tries to break them down) into single sugar molecules. It converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), because cells are designed to use this as an energy source. The ones in can't break down is called fiber and it just passes through the body undigested.
As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas churn out more and more insulin, a hormone that signals cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage. As cells sponge up blood sugar, its levels in the bloodstream begin to fall. That's when other cells in the pancreas start making glucagon, a hormone that tells the liver to start releasing stored sugar. This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensure that cells throughout the body, and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar. When this cycle does not work properly, that's when it becomes a problem.
Type 1 diabetes happens when you don't produce enough insulin. Your cells cannot absorb the sugar . Type 2 diabetes happens when your cells become insulin resistant and your cells. Your pancreas tries to churn out more and more insulin until it can't do it anymore and it start to slow down and eventually stops. Genes, a sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, and a diet rich in processed carbohydrates can each promote insulin resistance.
This takes us back to the original question - which carb is better?
Breaking down carbohydrates between simple and complex makes sense on the chemical level but it does not explain what happens when that carbohydrate enters the body. For example, white bread and potatoes qualifies as a complex carbohydrate. After you eat that potato and white bread, your body starts to digest it and the body converts this starch to blood sugar but it does it nearly as fast as it processes pure glucose (sugar) which is a simple carbohydrate. Fructose (fruit sugar) is a simple carbohydrate, but it has a minimal effect on blood sugar. Its a mess.
Glycemic index sorts this all out (or at least tries to) by classifying which carbohydrates based on how quick and how hight they boost blood sugar. Foods with high glycemic index, like white bread, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index such as coconut sugar are digested more slowly and have a lower change in blood sugar.
However, the Glycemic index value alone does not give accurate picture of the the food as it only takes into account the quality of the carbohydrate and not thequantity. This is where Glycemic Load (GL) comes in as it takes into account both the quality and quantity of the carbohydrate in food. Why is this important? Take for example a watermelon. A Watermelon has a glycemic index of 72. Judging from glycemic index alone, a watermelon will not be safe to eat. However, a serving of 120 grams of watermelon yields a glycemic load of roughly 4 and therefore is safe to eat.
So, which carb is really better?
Short answer is it depends on the carb!
Foods that have a low glycemic index have a low glycemic load while foods with an intermedaite or high glycemic index range from very low to very high glycemic load. To optimize insulin levels, your diet must consist of carbohydrates with low glycemic index and low glycemic load values and avoid foods with high glycemic index and high glycemic load.
What are the benefits of low glyemic food diet?
- helps people lose and manage weight
- increases the body's sensitivity to insulin
- Low GI carbs improve diabetes management
- Low GI carbs reduce the risk of heart disease
- Low GI carbs improve blood cholesterol levels
- Low GI carbs can help you manage the symptoms of PCOS
- Low GI carbs reduce hunger and keep you fuller for longer
- Low GI carbs prolong physical endurance
Coconut sugar is classified as a low glycemic index food. In addition, it is full of nutrients and tastes great! If you are thinking of substitute sweetener, give coconut sugar a try. You will find as many have that Coconut sugar is the perfect sugar substitute!
- Harvard School of Public Health - http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/carbohydrates-full-story/index.html
- Carbs and You - http://cocopalmsugar.sch.ph/node/46
- Simple and Complex Carbohydrates - http://www.weightlossforall.com/carbohydrates.htm
- Official website of the glycemic index and GI database - http://www.glycemicindex.com/