Carbohydrates, along with proteins and fats are called macronutrients, i.e. nutrients required by the body in large amounts. Carbohydrates
are broken down to glucose,
which provides energy for everyday tasks and physical activity. Glucose is the primary fuel
for the brain and muscles
. Also, carbohydrates keep the digestive system functioning like a well-oiled engine and have a protein-sparing effect
Andrew Weil said, ďIt is more important to eat some carbohydrates at breakfast, because the brain needs fuel right away, and carbohydrate is the best source.Ē
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends 50-60% of your daily intake
should come from carbohydrates, mainly whole grains. Thus, carbohydrates form bulk of our daily diet.
Like fats, many would rather remove the word "carbohydrates" from their diet. Both carbohydrates and proteins provide 4 calories per gram, but in case of weight loss or diabetes, most people jump the high protein and low carbohydrate bandwagon.
It is important to eat the right type of dietary fat. Similarly, choosing the right kind of carbohydrates goes a long way in maintaining good health. The right carbohydrates assist weight loss, combat constipation ensure a sound sleep.
A no-carbohydrate diet may result in temporary weight loss but it will accompany dizziness, irritability, hair fall and insomnia.
Types of Carbohydrates
Understanding the different types of carbohydrates and their food sources plays an important role in making the right carbohydrate choice.
Depending on their chemical structure, carbohydrates are divided into two types:
- Simple Carbohydrates
- Complex Carbohydrates
Simple Carbohydrates - The Wrong Carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates are composed of 1 or 2 glucose units. They are quickly broken down into glucose because of their simple chemical structure, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels and subsequent insulin secretion, which in turn may cause diabetes.
Simple carbohydrates are the wrong carbohydrates because they have a high glycaemic index
, i.e. they cause a sudden, sharp increase in blood sugar levels which if unutilized, gets stored as fat.
Chocolates, ice creams, soft drinks, cakes are simple carbohydrates. Refined foods like biscuits, bagels, white bread, cornflakes which are stripped of fiber are also examples of simple carbohydrates. The body doesnít expend too many calories while digesting simple carbohydrates. Thus, simple carbohydrates are easily broken down and do not have any nutritional benefits.
You eat, feel a sugar rush and after a short interval, experience a crash in energy levels, making you eat more food.
Foods high in simple carbohydrates result in surges in blood sugar levels, increases insulin release that trigger storage of fat in adipose tissue and appetite. Such an eating pattern will sabotage your weight loss efforts and make you irritable.
Simple carbohydrates deprive the brain of its glucose supply since pancreas secretes large doses of insulin, which directs the supply of glucose towards cells, thus compromising the brainís power to concentrate, remember and learn.
Complex Carbohydrates - The Right Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates, mainly starch is made of many glucose units linked together into long chains. Whole grains, pulses, fruits, nuts and vegetables
are complex carbohydrates, which take longer time to be broken down into glucose. They stave off the sugar spikes that interfere with a personís sleep, mood or appetite.
Complex carbohydrates contain significant amount of fiber, which is the indigestible carbohydrates present in plant foods that provide no calories. It aids in weight loss as it provides bulk to the diet and makes you feel fuller while reducing calorie consumption
Fiber is essential for the smooth functioning of the digestive tract and prevents constipation.
It also slows down digestion of food delaying glucose and cholesterol absorption resulting in lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
In addition to fiber, complex carbohydrates contain B complex vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron providing a complete nutritional profile.
Complex Carbohydrates ensure optimum functioning of the brain.
The brain is dependent on glucose for energy and since neurons cannot store glucose, the brain needs a steady supply of glucose. The fiber content ensures slow, steady release of glucose along with B complex vitamins and Vitamin E.
Low serotonin levels can cause depression. Whole grain cereals and pulses contain niacin, a B complex vitamin which boosts serotonin levels
. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and plays an important role in regulation of mood, appetite, sleep and cognitive functioning.
Avoiding complex carbohydrates for dinner will trigger intake of sweets later at night, which will interfere with a sound sleep and also cause weight gain.
Clearly, the answer isnít cutting carbs but choosing the right kind of carbohydrates
that help in weight loss and maintain stable sugar levels. Instead of eliminating carbohydrates, replace simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates.
The top health tips include:
- Substitute whole wheat bread, whole-grain cereals such as oatmeal, whole-grain pasta and brown rice instead of cornflakes, white bread and white rice.
- While shopping, opt for foods that contain minimum 5 grams of fibre per 100 grams.
- Eat the fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
- Communicate information throughout our brain and body.