Types of carbohydrates: the benefits and consequences of their use

Dear readers, in this article we will consider in detail the types of carbohydrates, their benefits, the consequences of their use for our health and how to make the right choice.

Carbohydrates are an important part of our daily diet. They are one of the main sources of energy for the body and an important part of any healthy diet. About half of the daily calories we get is due to carbohydrates. They should never be avoided, but it is important to remember that not all carbohydrates are equally beneficial. There are many discussions about “good” and “bad” carbohydrates. What are the differences between them? The answer to this question is simple, and at the same time difficult.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are organic compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. In the diet, “carbohydrates” refer to one of three macronutrients (biologically significant elements). The other two are  protein  and fat .

Carbohydrates are, in fact, sugars that our body converts to glucose and uses as energy.

Dietary carbohydrates can be divided into three main categories:

  • Sahara. Sweet, short-chain carbohydrates found in foods. Examples are glucose, fructose, galactose and sucrose.
  • Starches  Long chains of glucose molecules that ultimately decompose into glucose in the digestive system.
  • Dietary fiber (fiber).  People cannot digest fiber, although some bacteria in the digestive system can use them.

The main purpose of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide the body with energy. Most carbohydrates are broken down or converted into glucose, which can be used as energy. In addition, they can be converted into fat (stored energy) for later use. The body stores carbohydrates in reserve in the form of glycogen, which accumulates in the muscles and liver.

Exceptions are fiber. They do not directly provide us with energy, but feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria use fibers to produce fatty acids. However, some of our cells use them as energy.

Types of carbohydrates: simple and complex carbohydrates

Allocate “simple” and “complex” carbohydrates. This separation is associated with their chemical composition, as well as the changes that they undergo in our body.

Knowing which foods should be included in your diet, and which should be avoided, can play a role in maintaining overall health.

Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are made from easily digestible sugars, which are an important source of energy. Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed very quickly and cause an increase in blood sugar levels. Therefore, they are also called fast carbohydrates. Energy is stored as glycogen and, if not used, it is converted into fat.

Some of the simple sugars are naturally found in fruits and milk, while refined or processed sugars are often added to sweets, baked goods and soda. When trying to find out whether a source of carbohydrates is good or bad, remember that the higher the sugar content in them, the less fiber, vitamins and minerals, and the worse food they are for you.

Simple carbohydrates are not necessarily good or bad. It depends on what products you use them with. For example, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals and, of course, contain simple carbohydrates, consisting of essential sugars. But fruits and vegetables are very different from other products from the “simple” category of carbohydrates, for example, cookies and cakes with added refined sugars. The fibers in fruits and vegetables change the way the body processes sugars and slows down their digestion, making them a bit more similar to complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) contain longer chains of sugar molecules. They are found in whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables. They usually take longer to process in the digestive tract, which in turn gives us a more even amount of energy. They are also called slow carbohydrates.

Foods with complex carbohydrates also usually contain more vitamins, fiber and minerals than products containing simple carbohydrates. Whole grains, for example, provide greater nutrients than processed grains.

It is important when buying foods such as bread and pasta, choose foods from whole grains with a lower content of added sugar. Study the product label to competently approach their purchase. If the first ingredient is whole wheat flour or whole grain flour, this is likely to be a complex carbohydrate. And if there are fibers there, it’s probably a more complex carbohydrate in nature.

Glycemic load factor

Describing types of carbohydrates as simple and complex is one of the ways to classify them, but nutritionists use other concepts that help us make a decision when buying foods containing carbohydrates.

The glycemic index (GI) of a food basically indicates how fast and how much the blood sugar level rises after a meal containing carbohydrates compared to the consumption of pure sugar. If carbohydrates have a high glycemic index, they tend to increase blood sugar levels and make us feel tired and hungry.

Foods with a lower glycemic index are healthier for our body. Not all, but most foods containing complex carbohydrates fall into the low glycemic category. It is easy to find lists of foods classified by their glycemic index. Such a list is given in my next article .

Carbohydrates with low GI (55 or less) are more slowly absorbed, absorbed and metabolized and cause a lower and slower increase in blood glucose and, consequently, insulin levels.

Glycemic load (GN) food is another of the indicators by which one can judge the effect of carbohydrates on the human body. When calculating it, the glycemic index of food is taken into account, as well as the amount of carbohydrates in food. To do this, multiply the value of the glycemic index of food by the amount of carbohydrates contained in the product, and divide by 100.

The following levels of glycemic load (GN) are distinguished:

  • low level – 10 or less;
  • medium – from 11 to 19;
  • high – 20 or more.

For example, a simple bagel has a GI = 72 and a GN = 25, while a whole wheat bread has a GI = 69 and a GN = 9.

Even if the food contains carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, and the amount of carbohydrates is low, it will not have such a large effect. A good example is watermelon, which has a GI = 80, but the GN is only 5 units. It tastes sweet, but it’s still mostly water.

Types of carbohydrates in terms of their health benefits.

“Good” Carbs

Whole Grain Products

Whole grains such as brown rice, whole grain pasta, beans, whole wheat bread, whole grain oats, buckwheat, millet, rye, barley and corn are considered good carbohydrates. These products are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that are beneficial to our health. In addition, they have a low glycemic index, because they cause a slower change in blood sugar levels.

Diets rich in foods with a high glycemic index cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels, thereby increasing the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. In contrast, low-glycemic foods help you achieve more stable blood sugar levels and improve weight loss and control of type 2 diabetes.

Fruits, vegetables and legumes

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, nutrients and carbohydrates. People who consume about 2000 kilocalories a day should eat 2 servings of fruit and 2.5 servings of vegetables daily. One serving is about 80 grams. Legumes such as peas and lentils are high in fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and low in fat. Legumes reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer. According to a daily diet of 2000 kilocalories, it is recommended to eat 3 servings of legumes per week.

People who are trying to limit carbohydrate intake should be careful with whole grains, legumes, tubers, and high-sugar fruits.

“Bad” carbohydrates

Refined Grains, Sweets and Cookies

Refined grains like white bread, pizza cakes, pretzels, hamburger buns and megamaffins are bad carbohydrates. During the cleaning process, these grains are devoid of B-vitamins, fiber, and some minerals. In addition, having a high glycemic index, they adversely affect blood sugar levels.

Other examples of bad carbs are french fries and potato chips, cookies, sodas, coca-cola, pepsi, bagels, cake, pastries, pancakes, high fructose corn syrup and baked goods. These foods have a low nutrient density, because they have little or no nutritional value and provide a large number of calories.

In addition, research results show that bad carbohydrates (for example, sweet cookies) can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, affecting the part of the brain responsible for controlling impulses. This can lead to loss of self-control and the desire for unhealthy, high-calorie foods. A high calorie diet contributes to weight gain and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Of course, sometimes you can indulge in simple carbohydrates, but you should not make them your main sources of carbohydrates.

Consequences of eating different types of carbohydrates

Low-carb diets are great for some people. No discussion about carbohydrates is complete without mentioning diets low in carbohydrates. These types of diets have a limited amount of carbohydrates, but they provide enough protein and fat.

More than 23 studies have shown that low-carb diets are much more effective than the standard low-fat diet recommended in the past few decades. These studies show that low carbohydrate diets cause greater weight loss and lead to greater improvement in various health markers, including “good” cholesterol, blood triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure, and others.

For people who are obese, or have metabolic syndrome and / or type 2 diabetes, low-carb diets can have vital benefits. It should not be taken lightly, as these are currently the biggest health problems in the world, responsible for millions of deaths a year.

However, just because low-carb diets are good for losing weight and people with certain metabolic problems, they are definitely not the solution for everyone.

“Carbohydrates” are not the cause of obesity. Limiting carbohydrate intake often (at least partially) reduces the risk of obesity. However, this does not mean that carbohydrates were the cause of obesity. In fact, this is a myth and there is a lot of evidence against it. Of course, it is true that added sugars and refined carbohydrates cause obesity, but this does not apply to carbohydrates rich in fiber and whole foods.

People in one form or another eat carbohydrates for thousands of years. The epidemic of obesity began around the 80s of the last century, and shortly thereafter, an epidemic of type 2 diabetes began. Charges about the connection of the emergence of these health problems with the fact that we began to consume more carbohydrates, simply do not make sense.

Keep in mind that the health of many nations (Okinawans, Kitawans, residents of some Asian countries) remains in good condition, despite the fact that they eat high carbohydrate foods. The thing is, they eat natural, unprocessed food. While people who eat a lot of refined carbohydrates and processed foods tend to get sick and unwell.

Carbohydrates are not a “essential” nutrient, but many plant foods that are rich in carbohydrates have beneficial nutrients. Many people who prefer low-carb foods claim that carbohydrates are not the main nutrient in their diet. This is technically true. The body can function without a single gram of carbohydrates in the diet.

There is a myth that the brain requires 130 grams of carbohydrates per day. If we do not consume carbohydrates, then the brain can use ketones to produce energy. They are derived from fat. In addition, the body can produce a small amount of glucose needed by the brain through a process called  gluconeogenesis .

However, only due to the fact that carbohydrates are not “essential” – this does not mean that they can not be useful. Many carbohydrate-containing foods are healthy and nutritious (for example, vegetables and fruits). These products have all sorts of beneficial compounds and provide various health benefits.

Although it is possible to survive even on a diet with zero carbohydrate content, but this is probably not the best choice, because you do not have enough plant food, whose benefits are proven by science.

Low-carb foods can be great for some people, but for others, high-carb foods are better. There is no universal solution in nutrition. The “optimal” intake of carbohydrates depends on many factors, such as age, gender, metabolic health, physical activity, food culture and personal preferences.

If you are overweight or have health problems such as metabolic syndrome and / or type 2 diabetes, then you are probably susceptible to carbohydrates. In this case, reducing carbohydrate intake can have clear, vital benefits for you.

On the other hand, if you are just a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then you probably have no reason to avoid carbohydrates – just stick to whole foods with one ingredient as much as possible.

If you are a naturally thin person and / or very physically active, then you better have a large amount of carbohydrates in your diet.

So, in this article we looked at the main types of carbohydrates (simple and complex), the glycemic load index, types of carbohydrates in terms of their health benefits and the consequences of eating different types of carbohydrates.

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