Carbohydrates Explained

All kinds of foods from vegetables to fruit to whole grains contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made up from sugar molecules. There are many different types of sugar molecules and thus different types of carbohydrates. Common types of carbohydrates are:

  • fructose
  • starch
  • corn
  • sucrose
  • fiber

The body converts all carbohydrates into glucose or blood sugar, which our body can use for energy or store as fat. The only exception to this is fiber, which cannot be digested into sugar molecules and therefore passes through the body. There is a type of fiber called soluble fiber which binds to fat in the digestive system and carries it out as waste.

Simple and Complex Carbohydrates Debunked

At a chemical level, carbohydrates can be grouped into two categories:

  • simple carbohydrates, found in foods such as fruit
  • complex carbohydrates, found in foods such as french fries

It is a misnomer that complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and are absorbed more slowly by the body because the chains of sugar molecules are much longer than those found in simple carbohydrates. In fact, some complex carbohydrates such as starch found in foods such as bread made from heavily processed flour, have been found to raise blood sugar level quicker than simple carbohydrates . If our body has more blood sugar than it needs at any given time, the body will store this excess blood sugar as fat.

These days, people talk about the Glycemic Index (GI), which aims to classify carbohydrates based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. A study of women whose diet contained a lot of bread, pizza and rice has shown a doubling of their risk of heart disease. These foods have a high glycaemic index (GI), meaning they release energy and raise blood sugar quickly . Eating low GI carbohydrates keeps energy levels balanced because they enter the blood stream slower and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Foods with a high glycemic index are :

  • white bread or baguette
  • baked potato
  • corn chips
  • jelly beans

Foods with a low glycemic index are:

  • whole oats
  • whole wheat spaghetti
  • chickpeas
  • apples
  • rye

Maintaining a Healthy Diet
However, our body needs a range of foods to stay fit and healthy. Carbohydrates—foods made from whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans— deliver vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients, which protect against a range of illnesses and diseases. We need carbohydrates to provide the body with the fuel for physical activity and for proper organ function in our every day life.

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