Carbohydrates are any of a large group of organic compounds, including sugars, such as sucrose, and polysaccharides, such as cellulose, glycogen and starch, that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. All sugars and starches are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are divided in to two categories.
‘Simple carbohydrates: single sugars composed of one molecule are requiring only 30 minutes or less for digestion. Simple carbohydrates are glucose, as well as fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar), which the liver converts in to glucose.
‘Complex’ carbohydrates: starch and glycogen are composed of many different chains of glucose. They require a longer time for enzymes to break down their parts in to simple sugars and then glucose for absorption (approximately 2 - 3 hours digestion time). Some of the glucose is used as fuel by the body, while the rest is converted in to glycogen and is stored in the liver and muscles. Any excess is converted to triglycerides and accumulates under the skin and throughout the body as fat reserves. When the body burns stored-fat reserves, it breaks triglycerides back down to the form of glucose, and weight loss results.
When carbohydrate foods that are lacking in essential nutrients are consumed (processed foods), they are often referred to as ‘empty calories’. Overindulgence in these foods can result in simultaneous malnourishment and obesity. Many carbohydrate foods can cause an immediate rise in blood sugar levels. To correct this, the body will automatically release insulin, which is designed to bring blood sugar back to a normal level. Unfortunately, simple sugars trigger such an extreme rise in blood sugar, that insulin tends to over-compensate and the blood sugar is returned to a level lower than the starting point. When this level drops, you may experience a demand by the body to stabilise blood sugar to a normal level again and this causes a craving for more sweet foods and, possibly, dizziness, fatigue, nervousness and headaches. Excess consumption of these refined foods can also create a B vitamin deficiency.
A modest amount of unrefined carbohydrate foods must be part of a balanced healthy diet. To gain maximum nutritional benefits, the diet should comprise mainly fibrous vegetables, nuts, seeds, small quantities of unrefined grains and fruit, to provide fibre and nourishment.
To date, there is no documented research which shows that the requirement of carbohydrates recommended by most dietitians (60% of total calories) is essential for optimum health, however there is evidence that shows that an over consumption leads to numerous health problems, including diabetes and obesity. As demonstrated by diabetes, high blood glucose levels have been proven to be extremely detrimental to our health, causing many degenerative disorders and accelerating tissue aging. These disorders arise in diabetics due to their inability to control blood sugar levels with efficient insulin response, therefore blood sugar levels remain much higher than in the average person. This in turn fuels a process known as ‘glycation’, where sugars (glucose and others, such as fructose) react spontaneously with proteins within the body such as collagen (skin protein), blood vessels, myelin (nerve protective sheaths) and connective tissues. This reaction forms ‘cross linked’, sugar damaged protein. Cross linking is a process that stiffens tissue, resulting in aged skin, hardening of the arteries and many other degenerative symptoms. The degree of damage is proportional to the sugar concentration in the system. This process does occur in the non diabetic person who has a higher than necessary intake of simple sugars and carbohydrate foods, which cause high blood glucose levels. Controlling our blood sugar levels throughout our lives should contribute to ‘young for the age’ tissue structure.
Apart from vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds, most other sources of starch and carbohydrates have been processed in some way.
The processing of food was invented to ‘feed the masses’...cheaply! Bread, pasta, cereal, sugar...it’s all processed and it’s all cheap.
Manufacturers encourage the consumption of processed foods by extolling the benefits to our health! By the time most of these products have been prepared, there is little, if any, of the natural food’s nutritional attributes remaining. Husks, and therefore fibre have been removed and discarded, and natural oils containing antioxidant vitamins have been destroyed by exposure to heat, light and oxygen. The cardboard boxes that are used for packaging would probably be more nutritious!