Everything you need to know about carbohydrates
The word "Carbohydrates" became almost obscene nowadays. Nutritionists like Atkins and Dukan and their stories about the harmful influence of carbohydrates made people confused for a long time: there are still many people who underestimate the role of these substances in the organism, as well as their importance in maintaining a healthy weight. Global fitness boom dispelled the myths about carbohydrates a little. Now we know that there are monosaccharides or simple sugars polysaccharides and disaccharides. In order to build a balanced diet and keep from going mad, we should understand what are carbohydrates, what are different kinds of them and why human’s organism cannot go without carbohydrates.
Why does our organism need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the most important nutrients that make up the energy value of food along with protein and fat. In our organism, carbohydrates are converted into glucose that is an indispensable fuel for the muscles and brain cells. Glucose gets to the cells by blood with the help of the hormone insulin, and provides us with energy for different physical processes, such as walking and breathing. Fat stores are formed from the glucose remnants, as well as other sources of energy, such as glycogen, which is deposited in the cells of liver and muscles. When we sleep, our body uses glycogen, which is stored in the liver to support the cerebration, nervous system and other vital functions of the organism. Thus, our organism consumes carbohydrates from the liver cells when we sleep, but during physical activity, “muscle” glycogen is used.
All carbohydrates are different. Apart from sugar, whose reputation is really poor, there are other carbohydrates such as starch. A lot of vegetables, especially potatoes, beans, grains are rich for starch. Refined flour is almost a pure starch. However, there are also useful carbs among the complex ones, for example cellulose. There is no enzyme in the human body that is able to digest the molecules of cellulose, because its nutritional value equals to zero. At the same time is does not affect the blood sugar level. Rough cellulose fibers can also stimulate intestinal motility and normalize digestion, moreover, some types can even reduce the blood cholesterol level. Cellulose can be found mostly in plant food: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, brown rice, nuts and even popcorn (it is a pity that there is no benefit from popcorn at the movies, where sugar, salt and butter are added). Doctors advise women to consume 25 grams of fiber per day, while the average rate for men is 38 grams, however many of us consume no more than 18 grams on a daily basis.
Where did the separation of carbohydrates into simple and complex come from?
This classification has become widely known in the late 70-ies of XX century after recommendations on dietary standards of the US Committee were published. It was established to separate simple or “fast” carbohydrates from other carbs (complex or “slow”) and to reduce the simple carbohydrates intake. Of course, these recommendations are not the ultimate truth: some complex carbohydrates are less useful than simple ones. We have already mentioned that there are monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. The more saccharides molecules includes, the more difficult it is to break it down to glucose - the main source of energy.
The mono- and di-saccharides taste sweet and are easy to dissolve in water (for example, sugar and honey). Monosaccharides and disaccharides have relatively small size, that is why they split into glucose faster and easier, therefore they are called simple. Simple carbohydrates contain a lot of “fast” calories, but a sense of fullness does not last long. Oligosaccharides and polysaccharides split into glucose much longer, that is why they are called complex. These include starch and cellulose. They are distinct in the level of digestibility, that is why the blood glucose level grows slower after its consumption and calories are released not so fast, thus the feeling of fullness lasts longer. Both “fast” and “slow” carbohydrates are necessary for our organism, but they should be consumed in different situations and for different purposes.
When should we use “fast” and “slow” carbohydrates?
“Slow” carbohydrates should be consumed when you need to provide yourself with more energy, for example in the morning or before gym. Glucose obtained from complex carbs gets into the blood slowly and provides the body with energy for longer time. If you eat “slow” carbohydrates in the morning, you will not be hungry for a long time and will not eat more food than you need. Such carbohydrates are absorbed slowly and give more energy for our body. Thus, you can bravely eat carbs even before gym or scamper, because they will fill your body with energy.
You can also eat simple carbs during extensive and intensive workout. It is good to fill up the metabolic window with simple carbs after workout. They will be used to satisfy the current needs of the body and will not turn into fat. “Fast” carbohydrates with a high glycemic index are included in all products with sugar, as well as in fruits and fruit juices, in baked goods and pasta made from processed grains. Of course, not all “fast” carbohydrates are good for quick snack: it is better to opt for bananas and white rice instead of sweets and buns. In addition, it is important to realize that not all “slow” carbohydrates are useful. For example, some types of starch can increase the level of glucose in blood faster than some products containing sugar.
Replacing fatty and sugary foods with products rich in dietary fiber and whole starchy foods can significantly increase diet density. Scientists have already composed an average balanced menu for an adult: approximately 20-35% of calories should come from fat, 10-35% - from proteins and 45-65% - from carbohydrates. Of course, it totally depends on the individual and the level of physical activity. Choose more products rich in “slow” carbohydrates, and reserve “fast” ones for quick snack. However, do not revolve around calories and percentage ratio: the most important constituent of a healthy eating is a healthy mind.
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