A Carbohydrate Primer
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
CARBOHYDRATES, PROTEINS, and FATS make up the 3 MACRONUTRIENTS that are necessary in large amounts to nourish and provide the body with energy. CARBOHYDRATES are comprised of essential food components in differing amounts in the form of SUGAR, STARCHES, and FIBER. Most carbohydrates we consume will be metabolized into glucose which is the body's preferred source of energy ⚡️ . The human brain 🧠 accounts for about 2% of total body weight, relies on a continuous supply of glucose to function, and consumes an estimated 20% of glucose-derived energy. A brain deprived of glucose may result in impaired memory and inability to focus 🧘♂️.
SIMPLE CARBS (a.k.a. SIMPLE SUGARS):
Simple CARBS are determined by their chemical structures and consist of a single sugar unit. The simple sugars glucose, fructose, and galactose are the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, and milk and cannot be broken down into smaller units. Because of this, simple sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream through the wall of the small intestines which impacts blood sugar levels directly. The rate at which simple sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream varies as well in that the simple sugar fructose, found in fruit 🍎 , is absorbed more slowly than the simple sugars glucose and galactose. Most carbohydrates consumed in the United States do not come naturally from fruits 🍎 and vegetables 🍆 but from the added sugars found in highly refined foods. Too many of these refined simple carbs can lead to weight gain and an increased risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
CARBS to AVOID 👿 :
Soda 🥤 / Sports/ Energy Drinks/ Fruit Drinks/ Sweet Tea 🍹
Cookies 🍪 / Cakes 🎂 / Pastries 🥮 / Bread 🍞 / Pasta 🍝
Breakfast Cereal 🥣
Candy 🍭 🍬
Yogurt, Low-Fat Milk🥛 , Ice Cream 🍦
Salad Dressings and Condiments
COMPLEX CARBS (STARCHES and FIBER)
Complex Carbs, on the other hand, can be extremely beneficial to your health! Complex carbs are comprised of repeating simple sugar units and require further processing before being absorbed into the bloodstream. This makes these complex carb less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar 🩸.
STARCHES: Most natural starches are complex carbohydrates that do not lead to spikes in blood sugar. These natural starches contain health-promoting vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, polyphenols, and fiber and are found in beans/ legumes, fruits, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The more processed a starch is, however, the less likely it is to reach the colon to be fermented (e.g. refined breads, pastas, and cereals.) The cooking process can also render complex carbs less healthful so raw fruits and vegetables may have an advantage. Many uncooked and unprocessed foods contain what are referred to as RESISTANT starches. These are the starches that resist digestion until they enter the colon to be metabolized by our gut microbes, much like soluble fiber. .
FIBER: Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that can not be broken down into simple sugar molecules for absorption. Fiber comes in soluble and insoluble forms, each of which benefit our bodies in different ways. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool to ensure regular bowel movements while soluble fiber is fermented in your colon, acting as a 'prebiotic' that enhances gut health. A lack of fiber in your diet may lead to gut permeability issues/ dysbiosis (aka leaky gut) which can manifest as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's Disease, Gluten Intolerance, etc. Please see my prior Blog post "What is FIBER and Why Do I Need it?" for more information about fiber.
Why is it so very important to eat UNPROCESSED, WHOLE, CARBOHYDRATE-RICH foods? Because when we feed our gut microbes 🦠 resistant starches and soluble fibers, they reward us with SHORT-CHAIN FATTY ACIDS 🏆 More on SCFAs in my next Blog post.
☮️ ❤️ 🌱 🌎 🐒