Dear friend of Centers for Healing,
Carbs. We hear about them constantly. Too many will make you fat. Too few, and you have no energy and even have trouble thinking. After all, the brain is a notorious “carb hog.” If you drastically reduce your carb intake, you can even get really, really sick: ketoacidosis. Sounds nasty, right? It should, since it basically means the body is the process of cannibalizing itself, due to lack of available sources of energy.
In the limited space afforded by a blog post, here are the basics on carbohydrates.
To begin, they can be simple or complex. Simple carbs are those that have just one or two sugar molecules: monosaccharides and disaccharides. There are five different simple sugars:
Fructose is sugar found in fruit. Galactose and lactose are milk sugars. Maltose is found in beer, and sucrose, or table sugar, is what most of us mean when we say “sugar.”
Starch And Insoluble Fiber
The complex carbs, meanwhile, are those have three or more sugar molecules (i.e., polysaccharides). These are starches and fiber, which is either soluble or insoluble(i.e., indigestible). Common natural sources of starch are rice, beans, and tubers (i.e., potatoes). Fiber, meanwhile, is naturally found in fruit, vegetables, beans, and the indigestible parts of grains. Are you beginning to see the natural overlapping of macronutrients?
You may have heard the saying, “A calorie is a calorie.” This is true in a certain sense, in that the body doesn’t really distinguish between simple and complex carbs once they’ve been broken down into glucose for energy. However, the original source of those sugars makes a big difference on their overall impact on the body.
In nature, simple and complex sugars are generally present together in the same sources. Think, for instance, of a stalk of sugarcane. As a grass, it is loaded with fiber. When chewed, it releases a sweet juice. In its natural state, therefore, it is an unrefined carbohydrate, with both simple and complex characteristics. And, sugar cane harvesters are known to munch on the fresh cane stalks while they’re working, with no damage to their teeth and gums!
Compare that to refined table sugar, derived from that same stalk of sugarcane. The fiber has been discarded entirely, leaving just the crystallized residue of the original juice. This is pure sucrose. When eaten, it is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, causing the pancreas to secrete excess insulin to balance the level of sugar in the blood. Can you say “diabetes”?
The Good Guys
So, what are the “good carbs”? Regardless of our individual ancestry, here’s my recommendation: each of us should be eating a diet rich in unrefined carbohydrates. This meansvegetables (especially green leafy and cruciferous), legumes, some whole grains – but beware of wheat – andmoderate amounts of fruit. I personally consider a healthy diet one that consists of 85% unrefined carbohydrates. Yes, that leaves just 15% for protein and fat! However, many foods that are rich in unrefined carbohydrates are also high in protein. I’ll speak more about this in next week’s blog post.
Cookies Don’t Grow On Trees
To make even simpler for you to remember: the “bad carbs” are all your cakes, candies, cookies, pastas, pizza, sodas, ice cream and processed breakfast treats like “Pop Tarts”. All of these will raise our blood sugar very quickly,to be followed just as quickly by a crash in our blood sugar. Then we crave more of the same. The exact opposite is true of unrefined carbs. If you don’t believe me, try eating an apple, skin and all. Then, see whether you crave a second one.
Hopefully, this hasn’t left your head spinning too badly. Stay with me. Next week, as promised, I’ll tackle the question of protein, followed by a post on fat. Then, I’ll try to tie it all together for you. Nutrition is a fascinating study, and its consequences are too important for us to not know at least the basics.
Until next week, then, take care!