Updated: Mar 27
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet. Everyone needs to eat carbs, but that doesn't mean you're free to load up on pizzas and cakes to get your recommended daily requirements. It's so important that we're aware; not all carbs are created equal!
A Carbohydrate Can Be Complex Or Simple
The three main types of carbs are fiber, starches and sugar. They're called complex or simple based on their chemical makeup, and how your body deals with them.
Simple Carbs consist of basic, easy-to-digest sugars. They can be an important source of energy if they're not refined carbs. You'll often find them naturally occurring in fruits and in milk. Processed or refined carbs, on the other hand, are artificially added to soda, baked goods and candies etc.
Complex Carbs are often starchy vegetables, legumes and whole grains. They contain longer chains of sugar molecules, which the body takes more time to break down and use.
Many foods contain more than one type of carbs. It can hence get tricky to understand what’s healthy for you and what isn't.
How To Identify 'Good' vs. 'Bad' Carbs
If you’re looking to maintain a healthy diet, you have to make the effort to read those nutrition labels! Total carbohydrates are listed on the label along with sugars and fibre. Go for ingredients that include things like flax seeds, hemp hearts, or cereal grains like Millet or Sorghum, vegetables or whole fruit. Try to avoid foods that include added sugar like brown sugar, maltose, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.
Avoid fruit canned in syrup, as well as dried or frozen fruit with added sugars. Fruit juices may offer some nutrients, but often contain zero fiber - so limit the amount you drink.
Here's a list of healthy, good carbs to meet your health goals. Be mindful though when you are trying to heal your digestive system to omit grains high in lectins, so oats, buckwheat and quinoa.
What Makes Complex Carbs So Important
All types of carbs eventually break down into blood glucose. However, complex carbohydrates take longer to go through this process. Along the way, they offer vital nutrients that are good for your body. They also offer fibers that are indigestible and help with gut health.
On the other hand, simple, refined carbohydrates are broken down rapidly and often provide little nutrition, causing a sharp spike in blood sugar.
How Is Blood Sugar Affected By Carb Intake?
As stated before, complex carbs take longer to digest, allowing for slower absorption of glucose and hence a slower rise in blood sugar. We also have a very effective tool to gauge how different foods affect your blood sugar after ingestion - The Glycemic Index (GI). Here, foods are indexed based on their relativity to glucose (which has a GI score of 100, the maximum possible). This scale makes it evident that foods consisting of complex carbs like whole barley and yogurt are conductive to your blood sugar levels - having scores of around 20. On the other hand, refined, simple carbs have the highest GI Scores.
Due to this considerable difference in GI scores, it's integral that you always choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones. When you consume too many simple carbs, and don’t compensate with enough exercise, a harmful cycle starts: blood sugar spikes, insulin is released, glucose is stored in the cells, blood sugar drops, the body's tricked into thinking you’re hungry, and you start craving carbs…and the cycle begins all over again!
The Larger Threat Of Refined Carbs - Insulin Resistance
The cycle that begins from overconsumption of simple carbs takes its toll over time. Your body’s cells begin to lose sensitivity to insulin. It compensates for this by pumping out more and more insulin in an effort to get the sugar out of into the cells. All of this contributes to insulin resistance. This is made worse if you have a high sugar intake, lack of fiber and, most importantly, a sedentary lifestyle.
Insulin Resistance can cause excessive weight gain, even if you're not overeating, because excess glucose in the blood is eventually stored as fat. There's also a link between stress and elevated cortisol which drives insulin resistance and stores fat in the abdomen. Insulin Resistance is also linked with high blood pressure, low levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and high triglycerides. If left untreated, it's a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
We get it, we've scared you too much about the dangers of refined, bad carbs. Now, we're not asking you to lay off the cookies and pizzas altogether! However, making a conscious effort to choose healthy, complex carbs in your daily diet will go a long way in promoting good health and also keeping you in good shape along the way.
Happy Carb Choosing!
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