Why Carbs Are Fine – In Moderation

Complexities of carbohydrates

According to many current diet trends – some more faddish than others – carbs are the enemy. They turn instantly into unhealthy sugars, the theory goes, and then to fat. Some diets remove carbs completely, but this is extreme, and we know that secretly, everyone enjoys a carb-laden snack while playing at an online casino, watching TV or reading a book. But it turns there is nothing unhealthy about carbs when eaten in moderation, although you may want to reconsider the type of carbs you consume.

Carbohydrates are a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in long chain molecules of varying complexity. Carbs have been at the base of the traditional nutrition pyramid, followed by proteins and fats, for decades, and for good reason. Carbs provide us with the fuel our bodies need to function all day.

Simple Vs Complex

The simplest arrangement of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules produces sugars like glucose, which is what our bodies use to provide the energy to function. So, in effect, all carbs contain sugars. However, the beauty of the carbon atom is that it can combine with itself and other elements in so many ways; simple sugars can combine into very complex carbs.

That’s why carbs are further subdivided into three categories: sugars, starches and fibre. Sugars like dextrose and lactose can be found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products and, of course, table sugar. Starches are found in beans, grains and vegetables, while fibre is the most complex carb, found in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

The common denominator in that list is vegetables: they contain all three types of carbs but tend to have more complex carbs than simple ones. That’s why plenty of vegetables should be the foundation of a healthy diet.

Complex Carbs Are Better

Simple carbs are called “simple” because they’re easy to digest. The body breaks them down quickly into glucose, which is then used to fuel organ and muscle function. However, because they are digested so quickly, they can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. That’s why doctors may recommend that people with type 1 and 2 diabetes avoid simple carbs.

When the body has more glucose than it can use, it stores the excess as fat – that’s another reason to monitor your intake of simple carbs, even if you don’t have type 1 or 2 diabetes. However, there is nothing inherently dangerous about simple carbs; the key word is, as always, moderation. The occasional sweet treat can be part of a normal, healthy person’s diet; it’s when the sweet treats are being consumed too often that problems arise.

Good and bad carbs

More complex carbs, like starches, take longer to break down and be digested. So, the energy in them can be released more slowly, giving your body a sustained boost, rather than a sudden spike in your glucose levels.

This also depends on how the starch is eaten, though. Take a potato, for example: raw, the starches are densely packed together. It’s not just unpalatable; it takes your body ages to digest, so it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar. But very few people enjoy raw potato, we cook it to expand and soften the densely packed starches, making them easier to digest. So, a freshly cooked, hot potato might well cause a spike in blood-sugar levels, although not as quickly or severely as a sugary soft drink.

However, if that potato is then used in a potato salad and refrigerated, the starches shrink and pack closer together again. It remains much more palatable than a raw potato, but the starches will take longer to digest, sustaining blood sugar levels rather than causing them to spike.

Fibre: The Most Complex Carbs

Fibre is the most complex fibre of all, so that even after cooking, it can’t be digested in the stomach. Some break-down occurs in the small intestine, but serious digestion of fibre only takes place in the large intestine, and a lot of fibre leaves the body undigested.

However, it’s this property that makes fibre vital to any diet, not for nutritional reasons, but for the general health of your digestive system. To put it bluntly, fibre keeps things moving; a diet low in fibre can lead to constipation and other problems in the lower intestine.

In conclusion, remember that carbs in moderation can indeed form part of a healthy diet, as long as you ensure your carb intake is weighted heavily in favour of complex carbs like vegetables and whole grains, with lots of fibre. The key concept is “unprocessed”.

Highly processed sugars and starches such as table sugar and white bread, or products that contain a lot of sugars, like fruit juice, deliver simple starches that can cause spikes in blood sugar. Again, there’s nothing wrong with including them occasionally, but they should definitely comprise only a small percentage of your carb intake.

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