There is that dirty four letter word that begins with “C” – yes, carb, short for carbohydrates. These are those dreaded substances we are trained to avoid, or when were told to have them were told to have them clean. Everyone talks about good, bad, simple and complex carbohydrates, but what does this mean and how can one possibly readily distinguish which is which.
As it turns out there are four chemical groupings for carbohydrates, monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides, and oligosaccharides. Monosachharides are the major source of energy for the body’s metabolism characterized by glucose and fructose. Two monosaccharides that are connected are disaccharides largely characterized by sucrose and lactose. Polysaccharides and oligosaccharides are longer chains of monsaccharides typically characterized by starches, glycogen, and cellulose.
For these groups, typically simple carbohydrates refers to mono and disaccharides and complex refers to poly and oligosaccharides. The conventional wisdom was simple carbohydrates are bad and complex carbohydrates are good. To understand the connections first it is important to know how the body treats carbohydrates. The body tries to break down all carbohydrates to a single sugar molecule, mostly glucose which the body uses for energy. The simpler the carbohydrate the more rapid and sharp the rise in blood sugar as the body breaks down the carbohydrate. Studies have shown that a diet filled with food that causes quick sharp rises in blood sugar is linked to increased risks of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
So is it enough to just go for complex and avoid simple carbohydrates? Well the fact is the starch in white bread is a complex carbohydrate but it is treated as a simple carbohydrate in the body, still causing a rapid and sharp rise in the body’s blood sugar levels. The better standard is the Glycemic Index, which is a system that measures the effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar. The key is to go for foods low on the Glycemic Index.
The Glycemic Index breaks food up into three categories, high, medium, and low. High on the index are foods such as white bread and white rice, while medium contains whole wheat foods and yams and low on the Glycemic Index are fruits and vegetables.
For more information and a searchable database of foods on the Glycemic Index check out glycemicindex.com – It is time we stop talking about carbohydrates like the monster under the bed and make food choices based on the actual effect these foods have on blood sugar levels and how it relates to our fitness.