If I collected a dime for each time I’ve seen or heard the word “carbohydrate” – or picked up a book on the subject, for that matter – I’d be a wealthy woman. And of course we’ve all heard the buzzwords: simple carb; complex carb; high carb; low carb; no carb. But do we really know what a carbohydrate is? And are carbs really as bad and fattening as we’re told they are?
In this article, I’ll make my best attempt to unveil the mystery of the carbohydrate – and why it’s gotten such a bad rap. After all, it’s the molecule both scientists and nutritionists know is the main source of the body’s energy.
First the boring stuff. The basic chemistry of a carbohydrate. I’ll keep it brief: Carbohydrates contain a carbon atom attached to water molecules. This is important because it’s the structure and size of a carbohydrate which influences the speed by which it’s converted into glucose (sugar) and then into energy.
Why Are Carbs Useful?
Before we take a look at the different “sizes” of carbohydrates, let’s look at why they are useful to us. Aside from supplying the body’s energy, carbs are also useful for the proper functioning of internal organs, as well as proper function of the muscles and nervous system. The most exciting feature of a carbohydrate, in this writer’s opinion, however, is its ability to aid in protein and fat metabolism. So as it turns out, when used wisely, carbohydrates are actually useful in burning fat.
The Three Principal Carbs Found In Foods:
Next let’s take a look at the three basic carbohydrates found in foods (Still boring but stay with me). They are: simple sugars, starches and fiber.
Simple Sugars come in two varieties. The monosaccharide (meaning one sugar) are quickly digested and almost immediately utilized by the body due to their “simple” structure (think fruits, fruit juices and honey).
The second, disaccharides, act in almost the same way and are one molecule larger. The disaccharides, however, tend to be more of the refined sugars are very sweet to taste (think white sugar, candy etc.)
The second basic type of carbs are the starches or what we would consider complex carbs (the polysaccharides): foods such as potatoes, wheat, rice, corn. These carbs are slow to break down and take some time to be converted into energy.
Finally, there’s the fibers (think bran). Fibers don’t have a lot of energetic value, however, they do lend some support to the body. Because they don’t add much sugar to the system, they make it further through the pipeline to help with intestinal function and elimination. Moreover, they reduce cholesterol and slow fat absorption.
Why Size Matters
The theory behind a low carbohydrate diets is, when the body consumes too many carbohydrates the excess will become stored by the body as fat. This is true.
When the body ingests a carbohydrate, it aims to convert it to glucose as soon as it can, so that it can be utilized by the body. If there is some excess, no problem, it will get stored as glycogen in the limited space of the muscles. The trouble arises, when the stores exceeded capacity: the remaining molecules are stored as fat in fat cells that can infinitely expand (horrors!).
Yet, what if there was a way to outsmart this system by using the different “sizes” of carbohydrate molecules to your advantage? What if you could keep the body burning carbs at a steady rate according to the speed of your metabolism and your activity level?
Enter the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a scale which tells you (on a food-by-food basis) the rate at which a carbohydrate is converted into glucose. The scale is calibrated by glucose itself (which is rated at 100). The higher the number the faster the conversion.
First used by diabetics to prevent flux in blood sugar, the glycemic index (GI) has become a popular way to get all the benefits of carbohydrates without the threat of fat storage.
Here’s what the scale looks like:
Low GI = 55 or less
Medium GI = 56 – 69
High GI = 70 or more
To see a chart with samples of some favorite foods visit: Advanced Turmeric