Carbohydrates get no respect. Somehow the idea got spread around that carbs make us fat so the low-carb or no carb diets became the rage; sort of like the low-fat or no-fat diets.
That’s about the time that the obesity epidemic started in the U.S. Can we do without these nutrients? Yes, for a short time but not for the long haul. Cut carbs and sugars out of your diet at your peril. Let’s see why.
What are carbohydrates?
A carbohydrate, in plain English, is either a sugar or a starch. How can something be two different things at the same time? The fact is that they aren’t.
Not all sugars and starches are the same and if we had to make a broad differentiation in carbs, we would put some in a box labeled “simple” and the rest in a box labeled “complex”.
Simple carbs are sugars and the complex are starches.
Both will be treated in great detail with the ultimate focus being on what happens when we eat them, and how they affect our bodies and health.
The objective is to show we can use sugars and starches to our benefit and not our destruction.
Complex “good” carbohydrates are found in most beans and whole grain bread and pasta
For now, let’s just say that simple carbs are “bad” and complex are “good”, mostly because the simple carbs are usually highly refined sugars prevalent in processed foods, not in their natural state.
Simple “bad” carbs are found in refined, processed, sugared mass produced pastries, cookies and donuts
Complex carbs are generally consumed in their natural state, are higher in fiber and take longer to digest. Consuming too much of the wrong carbs and sugars can cause real health problems.
Most people are familiar with sucrose, the white crystalline table sugar we put in our coffee and tea and sprinkle on our cereal, but most would be surprised to know that there are over 200 types of sugars that occur naturally in nature.
Who would ever imagine that sugars are one of the most abundant substances in nature and without them, we have no immune system, no reproduction takes place, no blood types, blood won’t clot, growth and biological development won’t proceed but then again, there wouldn’t be any disease progression either. In other words, no sugar, no life.
The paragraph above, of course, refers to the bio-active sugars appearing naturally in nature and in non-processed food. The problem is that modern food processing injects so much of the refined sugars into the end product that diabetes and obesity are inevitable.
So, because of the rise in obesity and diabetes, carbohydrate restricted diets are commonly practiced but seldom taught. As a result, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, and nurses may have strong opinions about low carb dieting, but in many if not most cases, these views are not grounded in science.
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Conversion of Carbs to Energy
Most people know that we get starch, the complex carbs, when we eat beans, potatoes, grains, spaghetti and other pasta. It is not uncommon for athletes, especially runners, to load up on starch before going into their event. The reason is that they break down into glucose, the simplest of sugars and a source of energy for our body.
Table sugar also converts to glucose so why not just swallow a few spoons of sugar before the event? The answer is timing. Sugar converts to glucose almost instantly creating a quick spike while the starch converts over a longer time thus giving a steady flow of glucose and thus energy.
Molecules Make the Difference
The two types of carbs are so different in their molecular structure and characteristics that they almost defy description. For example table sugar and cotton are both carbohydrates which illustrates the vast range of characteristics that carbs can display.
In this day of weight sensitivity and worse, the explosion in obesity, starch and sugar have come be viewed as bad things.
The 5th edition of the Manual of Nutritional Therapeutics, 2008, in chapter 12 says that “Carbohydrates are needed to provide texture and blandness, which offset the stronger flavors of protein and fats to make food pleasant tasting. However, no carbohydrate is essential for the maintenance or growth of tissue”.
At any rate, as alluded to earlier, this belief has resulted in all types of low-carb and no-carb diets. Both are loved by the drug companies since they cause all kinds of serious health issues and result in more prescriptions being written and more drugs being sold both of which and create huge profits for the pharmaceutical industry.
Nevertheless, there are situations, such as diabetes, in which low-carb diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, or the genetic key diet are justified. Diabetes or not, these two diets should be the way people eat anyway but that’s another subject.
It’s not ever a good idea to cut carbohydrates completely out of our diet. As we will see later, there are good and bad carbs. We just have to educate ourselves on the intricacies of these miraculous nutrients and consume them wisely.