A lot of of the popular weight-loss books appear to do all they can to muddy the waters on the distinctions between simple and complex carbohydrates – it's no wonder so many people are mystified. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat) that supply calories in our diets, and are deemed simple or complex based upon their chemical makeup.
• Both types have four calories per gram
• Both are absorbed in a blood sugar called glucose, which can then be used to fuel our bodies for work or exercise.
How do simple and complex carbohydrates influence weight loss or gain? Quite a few diet gurus have stated that carbohydrates are responsible for weight control woes. You may be right if you think carbs are making you fat, but for the wrong reasons. Most nutrition specialists are sticking to their proposal that calories from complex carbs dominate the diet, in spite of the negative media publicity.
All About Carbs
Wikipedia defines carbohydrates as this:
Chemical compounds that act as the primary biological means of storing or consuming energy, other forms being fat and protein.
The simplest way to put this into layman's terms is to say that carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars that your body converts into energy.
Carbohydrates are the perfect energy source for your body. Simple carbohydrates comprise naturally occurring sugars such as lactose and fructose, as well as processed sugars like sucrose. Simple sugars are easily changed to glucose and go into the bloodstream soon after consumption. Potatoes, grains and grain foodstuffs are our chief sources of complex carbohydrates.
In addition to supplying energy, foods containing carbohydrates are naturally filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals. All carbs are made of three elements: carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Complex carbs usually have more fiber, and have a more intricate chemical structure that takes longer to digest. Generally we need more complex than simple carbs.
The one thing all carbohydrates have in common is that they are all composed of one of three monosaccharides (mono – one, saccharide – sugar):
- Glucose, which has a chemical composition of 6 carbon, 12 hydrogen and 6 oxygen molecules
- Fructose, which has the same chemical composition as glucose, but in a different shape. When absorbed into the blood, fructose is taken to the liver, broken down and re-formed into a glucose molecule.
- Galactose, again with the same chemical composition as glucose, however, this sugar is found only in milk.
Disaccharides are two simple sugars bonded together. There are also three disaccharides:
- Sucrose – Fructose + Glucose
- Lactose – Galactose + Glucose
- Maltose – Glucose + Glucose
Anything larger than a disaccharide, but smaller than 6 monosaccharides, is known as an oligosaccharide. Polysaccharides are starches.
American manufactured foods tend to be excessively laden with simple carbohydrates … they've been stripped of fiber, and in our passion for fat-free foods, they've been pumped up with high fructose corn syrup until they're so sweet they can't spoil. These foods have a high glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly a given carbohydrate enters the bloodstream compared to an arbitrary standard.
Heated discussions about the "perfect carbohydrate diet" are regularly in the news. Proponents push carb consumption for weight loss, while their challengers argue that carbs are the reason that Americans are gaining so much weight. Some make the assertion that certain carbs are "good" and others are "bad."
What are bad carbs? Cookies, cake, crackers, potatoes, white rice, white bread and pasta are all examples. Since they do not stick with you for long, you may feel hungry again soon after eating them. Conversely, good carbs are gradually absorbed by the body and may make you feel full longer than bad carbs do. Good carbs are a particularly healthy option for people with diabetes since they tend to keep blood sugar at a steady level.
Carbs have been getting a bad rap, especially among people trying to shed a few extra pounds. However, this nutrient is very important to your health and well-being. All carbohydrates, apart from fiber, are broken down into blood sugar (glucose), which has one main function: to provide energy for the body. It also has secondary functions, which include:
- Protein sparing – glucose spares protein from being used as an energy source, leaving the protein available to build body tissue and perform other essential processes.
- Fat metabolism – carbohydrates help burn body fat.
- Adding flavor and sweetness to foods – sugars improve the palatability of food and enhance any diet.
You've probably been living under a rock for quite some time if you haven't heard of Atkins or the South Beach diet. A lot of snack food corporations are even developing low-carb adaptations of their products, such as Frito-Lay's Doritos Edge and Coke's C2, which guarantees "half the sugar, calories and carbohydrates of regular cola, with all the great taste of Coca-cola."
The Reality of Breast Cancer and its Link to Carbohydrates
A diet high in complex carbohydrates such as legumes, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains does not cause breast cancer. The media, by lumping highly processed foods, like sugars and refined flours, and natural carbohydrates, like starches, vegetables and fruits together, is creating needless alarm in their coverage of a new study. Entitled Carbohydrates and the Risk of Breast Cancer Among Mexican Women, the study, by Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, was published in early August 2004.