Carbohydrates make up one of the three macronutrients known to mankind. They are usually categorised based on their chemical structure: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugar molecules linked together, whereas complex carbohydrates have more than two sugar molecules linked together.
Simple Carbohydrates – pastries, table sugar, refined foods, sodas
Complex Carbohydrates – whole grains, legumes, vegetables
What do Carbohydrates do?
When consumed, simple and complex, carbohydrates are broken down by the body into simple sugars which are then directed to the liver to fill energy stores. The liver then releases these sugars into the blood stream towards the various organs that require energy. At this time, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin which help the body cope with the sudden rush of sugars (energy).
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism, influence mood, improve energy levels, assist brain functioning and improve memory amongst other things. Complete elimination of carbohydrates from your diet can have a detrimental effect on all your overall health and well-being.
Quantity: How much is too much?
It is difficult to only blame high carb consumption to diseases like weight gain, diabetes, heart ailments because there is evidence of many cultures that remain healthy in spite of it, e.g. Asian & French Populations. The consumption of energy dense foods becomes problematic only when the amount of energy consumed is vastly disproportionate to the energy being dispensed by the individual. This means, when we consume too many calories and burn very little, there is an excess build-up of sugar in our blood stream which eventually gets converted to adipose tissues, i.e., fat.
Quality: Glycemic Index (GI)
The Glycemic Index measures the rate at which a carbohydrate releases sugar into the blood stream. High GI foods like simple carbohydrates are digested quickly which raise blood sugar levels faster compared to low GI foods like complex carbohydrates. The goal must be to find the right balance between high GI and low GI foods in our every-day meals. Low GI foods are great for the three main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner because they induce longer periods of satiation and provide better nutrition. High GI foods could be consumed only when our body requires a quick pick-me-up, e.g.: mid-afternoon snack.