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Carbohydrates – Good or Bad? How To Make Healthy Choices

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Which carbohydrates are more beneficial to the body? Are all carbohydrates sugar? Are carbs and sugar from fruit bad? How are carbohydrates stored in the body for future energy use?

There are a lot of misconceptions and misleading information in regards to foods and diets.

Unfortunately there is no magic pill that will solve all our diet and health problems…. But if we are armed with good sound information we can make better choices and have a better understanding of what is going on in our bodies..

We all know that eating a healthy diet is good for our bodies.

What is often not understood is why certain foods are considered healthier then others and how the different food groups work in the body.

Every food and beverage you eat or drink gets broken down to:

Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein and fats

Micronutrients: vitamins and minerals

Water

These nutrients give the body energy, provide structural components that make up our muscles and other tissues and protect vital organs.

Every nutrient serves an essential role in the body, which is why it is so important to consume a nutrient-rich and varied diet.

Macronutrients are broken down through the digestive system into their basic building blocks:

Monosaccharides (Carbohydrate)

Amino Acids (Protein)

Fatty Acids (Fat)

This Article will Focus on Carbohydrates

  • Carbohydrates are made up of three components: fiber, starch and sugar
  • Fiber and starch are Complex Carbs.
  • Sugars are simple carbs.
  • Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of immediate energy (glucose which is stored as glycogen)
  • They are the only energy source for the brain and red blood cells
  • They store energy. Glucose is stored as Glycogen in our liver and muscles.
  • Fiber may help improve digestive health and cholesterol levels

Natural Sugars vs Processed Sugars

Whether you are eating natural sugars or refined sugars the body will break them down the same.

But there is a difference in how it will affect your overall health and how you feel. The difference is what is included or not included in their packaging.

Natural Sugars:

  • The sugar that comes from fruit not only breaks down to glucose which gives you energy but also is packed with fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants.
  • Along with this it also contains disease-fighting phytomutrients as well as other nutrients that will improve your health.
  • The calories from this type of sugar we call FULL calories as they are packed full of all the additional nutrient benefits.
  • Because fruit is a good source of fiber it slows down the digestion of glucose. This in turn does not give you the energy high/ then crash you get from refined sugar (i.e. candies, cakes etc…)
  • Fruit also contains water, which will help to keep you from dehydration. Dehydration will leave you feeling tired and drained.
  • Sugar extracted from the stevia plant (a herb in the Chrysanthemum family) is 30 times sweeter than sugar with no effect on blood sugar. And is a widely available natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.

Processed Sugars:

  • Glucose + fructose = sucrose. Which is usually what refined sugar is made up of.
  • Refined sugars come from sugar cane or sugar beets. Both are processed to extract the sugar.
  • Common simple carbs that are added to foods include: raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose, and fruit juice concentrate.
  • Other than providing a source of energy which the body can use it does not provide the extra nutrients and fiber that the body benefits from.
  • Because of the lack of additional nutrients and fiber they are considered EMPTY As you get the calorie but not the benefits.
  • Non caloric sweeteners are calorie free because the body cannot metabolize them. They are used to sweeten foods and beverages.
  • Food manufacturers add chemically produced sugar, quite often it is High Fructose Corn Syrup, to many foods and drinks. They prefer to add this High Fructose Corn Syrup instead of pure sugar due to its long shelf-life and cheap cost.
  • Which works out to approximately 320 extra EMPTY calories per day that provide minimal nutritional value. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), 2010).
  • The typical American eats about 20lbs (9kg) worth of added sugar over the course of a year. 
  • Overeaten, processed sugars may contribute to inflammation, disease, weight gain and obesity.
  • These types of sugars create a spike of energy followed soon after by a crash of low energy.
  • This is because it has no fiber to slow down its absorption and therefore enters the blood stream very quickly = a surge of insulin = removes sugar from blood to tissue fast = sugar crash
  • The problem is after a sugar crash you want something to pick you up again… and what do people turn to…. More refined sugar which can lead to a vicious circle and weight gain in the end.

FIBER & STARCH

Fiber has many benefits. It not only promotes gut health, but helps reduce the risk of developing many chronic diseases.

Fiber helps to prevent constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.

A high-fiber diet is also linked to lower risk of developing some cancers, especially colon and breast cancer.

Helps to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol.

High fiber foods generally have a lower glycemic index value, which is important to help manage Type 2 Diabetes.

Starch:

  • A plant carbohydrate found in grains and vegetables
  • Plants store carbohydrates as starch granules
  • Starches take longer to digest
  • Humans have specific self-produced enzymes to easily break down and digest starches.
  • The rest of the plant is indigestible and passes through our bodies undigested.

Fiber:

Fibre is classified as:

  • “Dietary Fiber (obtained naturally from plant foods)
  • “Functional Fiber” (isolated fibres added to food products).
  • Together they are called “Total Fiber”.
  • High-Viscosity Fibers (formally known as soluble fiber)
  • Low-Viscosity Fibers (formally known as insoluble fibers).
  • Both are undigested, so instead of being used for energy it is excreated from our bodies.

High-Viscosity Fibers (soluable fiber):  

  • These foods help to increase the feeling of fullness
  • They slow down the passage of food from the stomach into the intestines.
  • There is also a slow and steady release of sugar into the bloodstream therefore averting the insulin spikes that occur with a quick release.

Benefits:

  • helps with weight control (high levels of insulin are associated with weight gain)
  • fiber also interferes with the absorption of fat by binding with fatty acids
  • lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (this is the Bad cholesterol) and the recirculation of cholesterol in the liver by binding with bile acid in the small intestine.
  • Once bound to the fiber the unabsorbed cholesterol are discarded through our bowels. This in turn may help to decrease our cholesterol levels therefore decreasing our risk of cardiovascular disease.

Include gums: found in foods like: barley, nuts, oats/oatbran, seeds, legumes, peas, lentils, and beans (especially Black, Navy and Kidney beans)                                                                               

Include pectin: found in foods like: apples, avacado,  purple passion fruit, Brussel Sprouts, citrus fruits,  sweet potato, strawberries, carrots,  asparagus, Turnip.                                                                         

It is also found in psyllium seeds, a common fiber supplement. 

Low-viscosity Fibers (insoluble fiber):

  • Help to move the bulk through the intestines promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.
  • Toxic waste is removed through the colon in less time
  • Control and balance the pH (acidity) in the intestines

Include cellulose: found in foods like:  whole-wheat flour, bran, vegetables

Include hemicellulose: found in foods like:  whole grains and bran

BOTTOM LINE:

Choose foods that are closest to their most natural state.

Natural sugars instead of processed sugars.

Include fiber into your diet and make sure you drink water.

Read labels to see what is really in the foods that we are eating.

By making better food choices we will feel better, be working towards better health and have better control over our weight.

Works Cited: Muth N. M.D., M.P.H., R. D. 2018. ACE Fitness Nutrition Manual. 
Muth N. M.D.,M.P.H., R.D. 2015. Sports Nutrition for Health Professionals.
Muth N. M.D., M.P.H., R.D. 2017. Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. Ch. 4.
Reno T. B.Sc., B.Ed. 2007. The Eat-Clean Diet.
Medline Plus: Carbohydrates. article/002469.htm

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