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Carbs – a WHOLE new world! – Part I

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Today let’s look at carbohydrates, our body’s main source of energy. I am a big advocate of carbs but not the refined ones. I vouch for WHOLE CARBS!

Carbohydrates for the longest time have been associated with weight gain. Hence low-carbohydrate diets, especially those that avoid grains, are popular amongst people looking to lose weight. But rather than focusing on lowering the amount of carbohydrates, we should focus on the type of carbohydrates in our diet. By this I mean switching to whole grain foods, and ditching highly refined & processed foods such as white bread, pasta or pastries!

Let’s look at it from an energy perspective. A certain amount of fuel must be burned each day by the body for it to function correctly. The primary role of carbohydrate is to be that fuel which when burnt provides energy to all cells in the body. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (simple sugar), which is absorbed into the bloodstream. The pancreas senses this rise in blood sugar and releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin facilitates the entry of sugar into the cells, where it can be used as a source of energy.

There are three main types of carbohydrates: 1. Sugars (simple carbohydrates) 2. Starches (complex carbohydrates) 3. Fibres (complex carbohydrates)

Sugars and starches provide glucose – the main energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells. Sugar is the smallest form of carbohydrates that our bodies use for energy. They are sweet to taste. Some are found naturally in foods such as fruits and milk and then there are added sugars eg. table sugar, syrups, fruit juice concentrates, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup. All sugars (simple carbohydrates) are quickly digested and absorbed by the body raising the blood sugar level and providing us with a short-term source of energy.

Starches are complex carbohydrates made up of many simple sugars linked together. They take time to get digested and absorbed hence slowly raise the blood sugar levels. They do not have a pronounced sweet taste. They are primarily found in grains, vegetables (mainly corn & white potatoes) and legumes. Fruits and dark-green vegetables contain little or no starch but provide sugar and fibre. Most starches are broken down to simple sugars by digestive enzymes. But some which are not broken down (called resistant starches) act as dietary fibre in the large intestine.

Fibres are the complex carbohydrates that cannot be digested or absorbed in the gut. But they are still vital due to their participation in important biological activities! Their beneficial effects include increasing the volume of faecal bulk, improving intestinal transit, decreasing cholesterol and blood sugar levels, trapping toxic substances in the intestines, stimulating the proliferation of the intestinal flora, balancing intestinal pH & making us feel fuller. Also known as dietary fibre it is found in fruits & vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.

The important question now is – are all carbohydrates the same? NO!

Simple carbohydrates (Sugars) comprise of added sugars which give empty calories and are the root cause of many diseases. Naturally occurring sugars present in fruits or milk are of higher quality because they provide certain amounts of vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients.

Complex carbohydrates (Starches) consist of whole-grain foods like whole wheat, oats, bulgur wheat, buckwheat, barley, spelt, rye etc. These whole grains contain many nutrients i.e vitamins, minerals & proteins.

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