The way carbohydrates are demonized today, it’s no wonder that so many people actually fear eating them. I used to be one of them. As a recovering “carb-o-phobe,” I’m now on the flip side and advocate eating complex carbohydrates for optimal nutrition.
Carbohydrates are nutrients that act as a good source of energy for our body. It is made up of sugar, starch and cellulose and it contains hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio 2:1which is the same as that of water. Although carbohydrates can be digested a lot easier than fats or proteins, they aren’t considered indispensable for the body.
While some carbohydrates make us healthy, others can be harmful to our health, if taken in excess quantities. For example, certain carbohydrates increase the risk of diabetes and heart ailments. So why are certain carbohydrates are beneficial and others adversely affect our health?…We need to go deeper and learn about the different forms of carbohydrates.
There are many forms of carbohydrates, but the three common forms are sugars, starches, and fibres. The basic unit of all carbohydrates is a sugar molecule. Then there are simple and complex carbohydrates. While sugars are simple carbohydrates, starches and fibres are classified as complex.
We generally consume simple and complex carbs. To understand what they are about, we’ll look at the list of carbohydrate rich foods and all that is essential for.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars composed of monosaccharide (single sugar molecules) or disaccharides (two joined sugar molecules) such as glucose, sucrose, lactose, and fructose. This category of carbohydrates is best found in fresh fruits.
On the other hand, however, there is another grade of foods that contain simple carbohydrates. This class of foods is processed foods. The trouble with these foods is that they provide energy and calories in abundance. It is for this reason that these high-calorie products must be kept away. Apart from that, simple carbohydrates that the body obtains from natural foods are also easier to digest than those obtained from processed foods.
Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugar molecules linked together and are digested or broken down into glucose faster, because the bonds in these small molecules are easily accessible to the enzymes of the digestive tract. Hence, these carbohydrates are readily absorbed.
Complex carbohydrates (or polysaccharides) are made up of three or more sugar molecules that are bound together. Since these carbohydrates get digested slowly, they release sugar into the system very gradually, thus allowing the body a consistent level of energy.
Often referred to as starch, foods that contain these complex carbohydrates are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fibres. The old belief that starch is bad for the body is rapidly dying, because starches by themselves contain only 4 calories per gram, while fat contains 9 calories per gram. Also, the advantage with complex carbohydrates is that they fill you up quicker, thus allowing a reduced intake of food, which very simply leads to a reduced calorie intake.
In addition, refined carbohydrates may contain hydrogenated vegetable oils, additional fat, and processed sugars. Eating refined carbohydrates like a cookie in the morning will neither give you the energy nor give you the nutrition to maintain a balanced body.
Benefits of simple sugars:
Eating sugar gives you immediate access to fuel. There are times when this is an advantage. When the level of sugar in your blood drops, you may feel sluggish or even ill. Eating a simple carbohydrate, such as a fruit, may raise your blood sugar and give you the burst you need.
Simple carbohydrates may have the advantage over complex when it comes to preparing for exercise. Before a training session, race or game, many athletes eat a large amount of carbohydrate to provide energy. So before any workout, simple carbohydrates are your best choice. Due to the fact that they’re digested more quickly, simple carbohydrates are good for athletes who need short bursts of energy, as opposed to endurance athletes who need longer-term energy from slow-digesting carbohydrates. Examples of pre-workout meals that contain simple carbs are bananas with honey, low-fat yogurt with jelly or chocolate milk.
There a number benefits of eating more complex carbohydrates, so it might be necessary to make some switches. Here are some examples of easy substitutions:
- Instead of white bread and pasta, switch to whole grain bread and pasta (if the switch is intimidating at first, try mixing half whole grain and half white when making your pastas).
- Instead of munching on chips, try raw vegetables.
- Instead of rice, try eating more beans as a base for dishes.
Also diets rich in fibre help to keep us ‘regular’ which also promotes greater intestinal health and, in turn, helps to guard against a number of illnesses including colorectal cancer. Immunity is strengthened. It contributes to Energy, Digestion, Metabolism, Sleep, Filling fibre, Brain function, and Nervous system function.
Well, to distinguish simple and complex carbohydrates and how they are processed by the body, one might think that foods containing complex carbohydrates are actually healthier than those that have simple carbohydrates. However, this is not always true. Rice is rich in starch which is a complex carbohydrate, while fruits contain fructose which is a simple sugar. But we all know that between the two, fruits are a better option when it comes to eating healthy.
Thus, we see that not all carbohydrates are bad. In fact, a balanced diet that has a fair share of carbohydrates, is essential for a healthy you. So let go of your carbohydrate fears and feel good about including some of these foods and reap the benefits that good carbohydrates have to offer.