THE HEALTHY EATING GUIDE: UNDERSTANDING CARBOHYDRATES
Carla Valois Lobo
Even though there is no such thing as bad food, you should choose more carefully what you put in your mouth. It is perfectly fine to eat a piece of cake or a pizza once or twice a week. It is OK to indulge yourself sometimes, but it isn’t advisable doing it on a daily basis. Carbohydrates indeed represent a meaningful part of a balanced diet, yet as a varied nutritional group they are not all alike. While many of us are aware that complex carbohydrates are healthier than simple carbohydrates, it is often unclear how they differ and in what way the difference among them impact your metabolism. Below we break it down for you.
SIMPLE AND COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
As previously mentioned, carbohydrates are traditionally divided in simple and complex. They are classified depending on their chemical structure and how quickly it takes for your body digest and absorb them. Essentially, simple carbohydrates are rapidly consumed as they don’t need to be dissolved from enzymes. They are made of one or two molecules, which is why they are also called monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Monosaccharides include glucose, fructose and galactose, whereas disaccharides are the combination of two monosaccharides. They can occur naturally or be added artificially, yet they barely provide nutrients for your body. If you want to lose weight then you should avoid pastries, desserts, table sugar, white bread, white rice and soft drinks.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are polysaccharides as they are composed of several molecules of sugar. They are slowly absorbed since your body needs more time to break them down, which means they will keep you satisfied for longer. In addition, they are usually rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Also known as dietary starches, they can be found in brown rice and pasta, whole-grain breads and starchy vegetables, such as beetroot, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
WHY COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES ARE BETTER
Following the ingestion, complex carbohydrates are dissolved into monosaccharides and disaccharides to be absorbed and converted into energy. Although they are transformed into simple sugars, they diverge from the latter because they contain several nutrients that are beneficial for your health. Simple carbohydrates, however, usually do not have any other nutrients and they spike your blood sugar, so you get hungry again really quickly.
Therefore, it is pretty easy to understand why complex carbohydrates are better for your health. If possible, always choose complex instead of simple carbohydrates. Polysaccharides will provide you long-lasting energy and steady glucose levels, meaning you will feel less tired and more willing to your daily activities or to exercise.
THE GLYCEMIC INDEX (GI) AND THE GLYCEMIC LOAD (GL)
Nutritionists also use the Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL) to measure how your blood sugar is affected by a particular type of carbohydrate. The GI, which was developed in 1981 in the University of Toronto, uses a ranking of 0 to 100 according to how quickly and how high your glucose increases after eating. For instance, a low-GI diet helps to cut down the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as it produces gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels. Needless to say, after ingesting high-GI food your body will deliver exactly the opposite response.
Conversely, the GL evaluates the amount of carbohydrates in a portion of food (in grams) together with its GI rating. The formula to calculate the GL is GL = GI x carbohydrate / 100g. For example, according to the Harvard Medical School a 120g slice of watermelon contains a GI of 72, thereafter to figure out its GL the right formula would be:
GL = 72 x 5g / 100g
GL = 4
The GL is useful for us to know which quantities of food are suitable for maintaining a healthy blood sugar and insulin levels. Also, it is worth mentioning that a particular food can have a high GI, yet a low GL, such as the watermelon. Therefore, it is wise to analyse it case by case.