The Facts About Carbs: The Good, Bad, and Ugly
Carbohydrates are one of the most important nutrients for human beings. They provide energy for our bodies and keep us alive. However, carbohydrates are not without their drawbacks. For example, some types of carbohydrates cause weight gain while others cause diabetes or other diseases in humans.
On the other hand, there are certain foods which do not contain any carbohydrates at all. These include fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. Some of these foods are very nutritious but they lack calories because they don’t contain any carbohydrates. Other than being healthy for your body, these foods are considered to be “good” for your health since they tend to lower cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure.
Carbohydrates are classified into two main groups: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates consist of sugars (simple) and starches (complex). Complex carbohydrates consist of fiber, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. There are many different kinds of carbohydrates including whole grains, refined grains, fruits and vegetables.
Foods such as fruit juices, nuts and seeds contain both simple and complex carbohydrate content.
The importance of carbohydrates in our diet cannot be under-emphasized. They are the main source of energy for our bodies, especially the brain. Our brains, as intelligent as they are, cannot survive without a constant supply of energy and this is usually in the form of glucose.
Carbohydrates also help with other bodily functions such as hormonal balance, muscle movement, and even psychological well-being.
You are probably aware that the ingestion of carbohydrates causes an increase in blood sugar. This, in turn, leads to an influx of insulin into the bloodstream.
Insulin is a powerful hormone which breaks down the glucose (or carbs) and deposits it into the body’s cells for immediate use or storage as fat (if intake exceeds expenditure). The main trigger for insulin release is the ingestion of carbohydrates.
Some carbohydrates, however, do not cause a rise in blood sugar. These are called “complex” carbohydrates and they tend to provide you with more energy compared to simple carbs.
Foods that are considered to be good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
whole grain breads
pasta (made from whole grains)
oats (porridge, flakes, etc. )
beans (all kinds)
fruit (all kinds)
vegetables (all kinds)
Foods to avoid or use sparingly are:
sugar or foods that are high in sugar content such as sweets, jams, jellies and soft drinks. Sugar causes a dramatic rise in blood sugar and often leads to hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia (too much blood sugar).
Foods that have a high starch content such as white bread, crackers, pretzels, chips and other processed foods. These foods are quickly digested and lead to an overproduction of insulin.
The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how they affect the body’s glucose levels. Foods that have a low GI rating (55 or less) are considered good while those with a high GI rating (70 or more) should be eaten sparingly.
Carbohydrates can be classified as either simple (sugars) or complex. Simple carbs are foods that are very easy to digest and turn into glucose almost instantly. Some examples of simple carbs or sugars are table sugar, honey, fruits, fruit juices and sodas (the sugar content).
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer for the body to digest. Some good sources of complex carbs are whole grains, vegetables and beans.
The body prefers simple carbohydrates because they are easy to turn into glucose for immediate energy. This is the reason many people crave sweet foods. But in reality, your body needs a constant and steady supply of energy and can’t rely on sugar (simple carbs) for this. This is why you need to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that contains lots of complex carbs.
The following are some tips on choosing the right carbohydrates for your daily diet:
Choose whole grain foods whenever possible. Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that are lost in the refining process of white flour.
Don’t eliminate all the “white stuff” from your diet, just cut back on the portions. Plenty of white bread, pasta and rice can fill you up without adding unnecessary calories to your diet.
Choose sweet fruits such as apples or ripe bananas rather than juice or sweets. Fruits provide fiber as well as vitamins and minerals that are necessary for a healthy body and mind.
When eating cereals for breakfast, go for those that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar content. Make sure you choose those that have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
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