Carbohydrates (CHOs), one of the main macronutrients in our diet together with proteins and fats, are found in fruits, vegetables, grains and derived products.
Chemically, for those of you so inclined 🙂 , they are organic molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Plants “fix” atmospheric carbons by photosynthesis and form ring structures called sugars or saccharides. These sugars are then joined together to form larger molecules such as starch and fiber.
Let’s see the different types of carbohydrates and their role in blood sugar balance
THE NATURAL CARBOHYDRATES: REAL, WHOLE AND HEALTHY!
The natural carbohydrates derived from plants can be divided into 2 main groups: Simple and Complex Carbohydrates.
The Simple Family contains small molecules of sugars such as glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose and maltose. These sugars are, what I call, the speedy CHOs. They are “glycaemic carbohydrates” which means they are digested, absorbed and released into our blood stream.
They are, in fact, very easy and fast to digest because of their simple structure (1 or 2 molecules max) and are absorbed quickly by the cells of our gastrointestinal tract. They greatly affect your blood sugar balance causing sugar spikes and consequently cause high releases of insulin to correct the imbalance.
The Complex Family (so called as it includes longer and more complex molecules) includes “glycaemic” and “non-glycaemic” carbohydrates. Non-glycaemic carbohydrates are non-digestible and therefore not absorbed from our intestinal tract and thus do not affect our blood sugar balance.
The glycaemic CHOs are called polysaccharides or more commonly starches. These are also easy and fast to digest ( speedy CHOs) because, although their molecular structure consists of long glucose chains, the glucose molecules are kept together by weak chemical bonds ( a bonds) easily cleaved by our digestive enzymes.
The non-glycaemic CHOs come in 2 forms: oligosaccharides and fiber. These, although not digested and absorbed, are extremely important for our health as they prevent constipation, promote healthy gut bacteria, slow down gastric emptying, helping blood sugar control, support the elimination of cholesterol and used oestrogens, helps eliminating toxicity and an optimal intake is associated with reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes type 2, kidney stones and many others conditions.
Each type of carbohydrate rich food contains a variety of CHOs, glycaemic and non-glycaemic but in different concentrations and this is the reason why CHOs rich foods have different glycaemic values.
The higher the amount of non-glycaemic CHOs in a food (oligosaccharides and fiber) the lower the GL of that food. Some CHOs rich foods also contains valuable amount of proteins (pulses such as lentils, dry peas, beans, chickpeas) and these also contribute to lower their GL value.
ARTIFICIAL, ANTI-NUTRIENTS AND ENERGY ROBBERS!
So far I have been discussing the type of natural CHOs which you find in vegetables, grains and fruit. However, this is not the complete picture when it comes to sugars.
“Refined carbohydrates”, man-made sugars, extremely fast to digest and quick to absorb are a huge part of the modern western diet and cause havoc to our blood sugar balance. I am talking about CHOs which are the results of industrial processes of various type and degree, from refined grains, used to produce flours, to syrups, sugar crystals, powders and derived products.
They have no nutritional value and they are simply empty calories often accompanied by additives such as stabilizers, colorants, flavorings and preservatives, basically they come with their own added toxic load to complete the negative effects that they have on our health and weight!
Refined CHOs have very high glycaemic load and they are better avoided altogether.
Just a quick recap for those of you who haven’t read my previous blogs:
The GL (glycaemic load) of a food determines the effect that it has on your sugar blood level and therefore has an impact in your energy levels, weight, moods, sugar cravings and long term heath. Ideally we aim at keeping the GL of each meal low to medium, depending on your individual health and weight goals.