The Power of Carbohydrates


So now you know when and why you need to eat carbs, let’s examine how carbohydrates are classified.

There are two three main carbohydrate classifications: Simple, complex and fiber.

Simple carbs contain lots of mono or di-saccharides (single or double molecules of sugar) and, as the name suggests, have a very simple chemical structure. Fruit is a simple carbohydrate, as are jelly beans. Clearly fruit is more healthy than jelly beans and that is why fruit in its raw and unprocessed state is called unrefined and jelly beans would are commonly referred to as refined. In all aspects of carbohydrate, unrefined is generally healthier and refined carbs should only be consumed in moderation if at all.

Complex carbs are made up of polysaccharides (big, complicated structures made from lots of sugar molecules). Grains and vegetables are your primary source of complex carbs. Rice, potatoes, yams, bread, pasta and pulses are all good examples of complex carbs. Like refined versus unrefined simple carbohydrates are less healthy and more healthy respectively, the same differential can be made between refined and unrefined complex carbs. Refined carbs (white bread, white rice, white pasta, refined grains and vegetables) are generally much less healthy than their wholemeal or wholegrain unrefined counterpart. The difference between refined and unrefined is mostly the removal of fiber…

The last part of the carbohydrate trio is fiber, also known as indigestible plant material or non-starch polysaccharide. We’ll be sticking with the term fiber!

Fiber is the husky outer layer of grains and fruit/vegetable skins and the soft pulp in the flesh of the same. fiber contains no calories (whereas carbs deliver four calories per gram) but have a profound healthy affect on your digestive system.

Despite being indigestible, fiber passes along your digestive tract and adds bulk to your faeces and gives the tubes that make up your digestive system a thorough scrubbing out. This ensures the movement of waste material out of your body happens in a timely fashion. Let’s face it – you don’t want an accumulation of rotting faecal matter loitering in your digestive system for any longer than is absolutely necessary so fiber is all but essential for keeping your digestive system in tip-top health.

Carbohydrate is often discussed in connection with something called the glycemic index. The glycemic index describes how fast a carbohydrate is converted to glucose in your body. With the exceptions of before and after exercise, we generally need our carbs slowly so, as a rule, you should select wholegrain and unrefined carbs (which have a low glycemic index) the majority of the time. Just before and just after exercise, your need for carbohydrate is more urgent so a faster acting, higher glycemic index carbohydrate may be more appropriate.

You now should understand that not all carbs were created equal and that there are times when you should consume more carbs and times when you should consume less. The low carb “movement” is as much about selling your something as it is about helping your manage your weight and energy levels and things like low carb drinks, baked goods and sweets are misleadingly sold  and often are not actually very healthy as they generally contain lots of artificial sweeteners.

Of all the carb groups, if I really had to choose one to reduce or eliminate from most people’s diets, I would choose refined sugar. Refined sugar is undeniably the worst carb in terms of health and potential for causing weight gain. What’s the easiest way to avoid refined sugar? Cut out processed food and eat natural foods instead. If more people did this the whole low carb movement would become nothing more than a pointless toothless tiger.

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