Carbohydrates: The Body's Power Supply
> 6/2/2008 1:26:00 PM
Some diets call for the total elimination of carbohydrates from meals, but this blanket advice fails to take into account the important role that they play in the body. Carbohydrates are one of the primary biomolecules, and they serve a crucial purpose: supplying the body and brain with readily available energy.
Carbohydrates store energy in chemical bonds that can be quickly broken, releasing a burst of fuel for emergencies or planned but taxing activities like long-distance running. While the body can eventually get energy from fat and protein, this process is much slower. There are two tradeoffs for this speed. Firstly, carbohydrates are harder for the body to store in the long run. Secondly, the quickness with which the body reacts to carbohydrates can actually be dangerous. Carbohydrates quickly raise the level of glucose in the blood, and the pancreas responds with a spike in insulin production to break down the glucose. If these spikes occur frequently, metabolic diseases like diabetes can result.
Now that you know what carbohydrates are, and why they have both benefits and risks, you should learn how to incorporate healthy amounts into your diet. It is too simplistic to use the two classifications “good carbohydrate” and “bad carbohydrate”. A more accurate way to view carbohydrates is on a spectrum of their glycemic index and additional nutritional content.
The glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly the carbohydrates are broken down. Complex carbohydrates take longer to process, so they have a low glycemic index and put less stress on the body. Complex carbohydrates can be found in starches and dietary fibers. Starch is in many vegetables (such as potatoes and corn), breads, and cereals, while fiber can most commonly be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole wheat, and whole grains like brown rice.
Another important element to consider when evaluating food with carbohydrates is the additional nutrients that that food offers. Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of nutrients that should be included in any healthy diet. Don’t skip apples just because a fad diet says that their carbohydrates are “bad.”
If you are interested in limiting the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming, the first step should be to avoid carbohydrates that add sweetness to food without adding any nutrition. Here is a list of additives to look out for:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar