They’ve had some bad press over the years, with celebrities and celebrity chefs promoting low carbohydrates diets, but recent research is making it clear that carbohydrates are important for good health. They are one of three of the macronutrients which are needed in a healthy diet, alongside with proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are the body’s first choice nutrient to be broken down to be used for energy, cell activity and brain energy fuel. Be careful to choose the right kinds of carbohydrates including fruits, vegetables and whole-grains rather than starchy, white, processed foods to reap major benefits.
So what are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates can be broken down into two categories ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ or you may have heard these described as ‘sugars’ and ‘starches’. All digestible carbohydrates are broken down into Monosaccharide (single sugar, single unit) in the body so they can be absorbed through the intestinal wall for fuel. The three forms of monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galatose. Glucose, also known as dextrose and blood sugar, is the major monosaccharide found in the body. Fructose, known as fruit sugar, is another common monosaccharide that is absorbed by the small intestinal and transported to the liver where it is quickly metabolised. The last monosaccharide is galatose which has nearly the same compound structure as glucose. Galatose doesn’t exist in nature, instead it is bonded with glucose to make lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products.
Disaccharides ( di meaning two) are when two monosaccharides are combined. All disaccharides contain the sugar molecule glucose to convert into either sucrose, lactose or maltose. The sugar sucrose forms when glucose and fructose bond together. Sucrose is naturally found in cane sugar, maple sugar, beets and honey. Lactose is formed with the sugar units glucose and Galatose during the synthesis of milk. Maltose forms the breakdown of starch and contains glucose and glucose molecules.
Polysaccharides (poly meaning many) form when more than 10 single sugar units are bonded together to form a chain, also known as ‘complex carbohydrates’. The three polysaccharides are starch, glycogen and fibre and are often found in whole wheat breads, grains, high-fibre breakfast cereals, wholegrain rice and whole grains.
There are also Oligosaccharides, another form of complex carbohydrate, contain 3-10 monosaccharides.
Good Grain- Whole and unrefined.
White breads, white potatoes, sugary breakfast cereals and other highly processed foods are popular carbohydrate choices, and probably what most people think of when carbohydrates are mentioned. Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that whole grains, unrefined or minimally processed are where the nutrients, minerals and vitamins really are. Much of the nutritional value is lost during the processing of foods that manufacturers are now putting some of these vitamins and minerals back in, but they do not compensate for the natural B-vitamins and fibres.
Disease Fighting Fibre.
Refining grains has another major downside, it removes a lot of health promoting fibre. Even though fibre isn’t a nutrient, meaning the body does not absorb it, it is indispensable to a healthy diet. Soluble and Insoluble fibre speeds up waste passing through your body, cutting the time that potential cancer causing substances are in contact with your intestines. It also serves as ‘food’ for your own healthy micro flora in your gut!
Insoluble fibre acts as a sponge, mopping up waste in the intestines to help create a bulky, soft stool.
Soluble fibre turns into a sticky gel in your intestines. This gel helps pull cholesterol, toxins and wastes to reduce the risk of them causing any harm. Fibre also passes slowly from the stomach making you feel fuller for longer which is beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight. Most people don’t eat enough fibre, which experts recommend 25-30 grams per day.
Next week I’ll be posting Part 2 on Carbohydrates including information on Glycaemic Index (GI), Glycaemic Load (GL) and how whole grains can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and inflammation. So be sure to keep a look out!!
For further information on Carbohydrates please click on the links below.