What are Carbohydrates?

What are Carbohydrates?

Sugar converted to glycogen: The body converts some of these simple sugars into a starch in which the molecules are larger and structurally different. This starch is called glycogen and is stored in the liver and muscles as a short-term energy reserve. The starch from plants consists of two kinds, amylose and amylopectin. Both are similar in structure and are glucose rings linked together in long chains. Amylopectin starch chains also branch out on the sides, which provide more surface area for enzymes to work on. This makes it easier and faster for the human body to convert amylopectin starch back into glucose. Glycogen also has this branching structure.

Carbohydrate for Weight loss: The fact that carbohydrates cause weight gain is misleading. Weight gain is because of consuming excess calories, either from carbohydrate, protein or fat. Low carb diet or low carbohydrate diets cause weight loss as they restrict energy consumed. Choosing right type of carbohydrate is essential.

Glycemic Index (GI) is rate at which body turns starch into sugar. High GI carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels quite rapidly, providing bursts of energy that may be followed by energy let-down. Low GI starches, because they take longer to be converted into glucose, maintain blood sugar at normal levels and provide energy at a more sustained pace. Amylopectyin starches have a higher GI. Foods are given a GI score out of 100 with glucose as the standard with a GI of 100. Foods that take longer to be absorbed are called ‘low GI’ (GI less than 55). Carbohydrates that offer a quick hit are called ‘high GI’ (GI greater than 70).

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Body sugar and Insulin: Blood sugar level is maintained by release of Insulin hormone by the pancreas. The more the blood is flooded with glucose, the more insulin is required. Excess insulin can cause the body to store fat, damage the arteries, and accelerate the growth of tumors.

Hence it is important to moderate high Glycemic Index foods in the diet by eating foods that are low in GI value. The selection of higher GI foods should be nutrient-dense as opposed to the more refined ones like white bread and sugar. Whole wheat bread and white bread are in the same GI range because when wheat is ground into the fine particles of flour, the surface area is much greater for digestive enzymes to work on and the yeast factor that puffs up the bread also increases surface area, so the result is faster glucose conversion. However, whole wheat is nutrient-dense and more wholesome in that it contains more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A starch food that contains fiber and fat has a lower GI because these substances slow down the digestion process.

High fiber diet: Although body can’t digest fiber, it has important functions in the body. Fiber protects the health of the intestinal tract by increasing stool bulk and decreasing transit time, which minimizes the contact of carcinogenic and microbial elements with the intestinal walls. Colon and rectal cancers are not caused by a lack of fiber, but in susceptible individuals fiber may help prevent the diseases. There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Water-soluble fibers are gums, found in grains such as oats, seeds, and legumes, and pectins, which make up part of the edible portions of seeds, vegetables, and fruits, notably apples. Soluble fibers can lower cholesterol and they do this by binding up cholesterol-containing bile acids and cholesterol, preventing their absorption. Insoluble fibers are cellulose and lignins, found in the bran of wheat and other whole grains, and hemicellulose, found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Insoluble fibers may help alleviate diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Increasing fiber foods in the diet may cause flatulence in some individuals because as complex carbohydrates are digested by bacteria in the intestine, methane gas is released. Eating smaller amounts frequently helps eliminate the problem; so does selecting complex carbohydrates, through experimentation, that are better tolerated.

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