What Are Carbohydrates?
Mention carbohydrates and anyone on a calorie-controlled diet is likely to cringe. Carbs are what make us fat, or so we believe, yet in truth carbs should make up the majority of our everyday diet. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans carbohydrates should provide 45-65% of our energy nutrients, with fat contributing 20-35% and protein just 10-35%.
We often hear about good and bad carbs, simple or complex carbs, or even high or low glycemic carbs, which make our meals sound like a science lesson, and in some ways they are. By understanding more about what carbs are and how they operate, you can balance your diet between the three food groups of protein, fats and carbs while maintaining your optimal weight.
What are Carbohydrates (Carbs)?
Carbohydrates are starchy or sugary foods that tend to be high in calories and low in goodness. Carbs can be found in almost all processed foods and drinks, as well as bread, pasta, potatoes and almost everything sweet. They are also found to a lesser degree in fruit and vegetables.
When we eat a meal, the digestive system breaks down all the carbs into glucose, or blood sugar. It depends on the source of the carbs to determine what amount of glucose enters the bloodstream and how fast. Simple carbs are those that are quickly and easily broken down into the blood sugar; complex carbs take longer to break down and enter the bloodstream. If you have eaten a sugary cake or candy, there will be a high rush of glucose into the bloodstream. The body sends an emergency request for insulin to counter it. However, if the carbs come from something complex, that takes longer to break down and digest, the amount of glucose entering our bloodstream is steady and slow.
Although all carbs have exactly the same calories per gram, your body is less likely to have a spike in sugar levels and feel hungry than if the carbs you eat are digested slowly throughout the day. This is the difference between simple and complex carbs.
The glycemic index (GI) was created to measure how fast and how high certain foods raise blood sugar levels. Carbs with a high GI are sugars and foods that break down quickly to release glucose into the bloodstream. Carbs with a low GI break down more slowly and include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, peanuts, spaghetti, rye, grapefruit, milk and yoghurt. These should be the main daily source of those 45-65% carbs, not starchy food and sugars.
In the end, both high and low glycemic foods end up providing the same calories to your body for energy, body building and more. However, you will feel healthier and more in control of your hunger with a diet that concentrates on low glycemic, slow-burning carbs. These complex carbs also have more fiber, vitamins and minerals while simple carbs tend to be highly processed junk food that lacks nutrition and has been found to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.