Carbohydrates are often seen in an unfair light for their direct contribution to weight gain. Thus, most people wishing to lose weight pave the way for their weight loss journey with a low-carb diet. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, you might be doing more harm to your body than good if you just cut off carbs too much from your diet without realising your body’s needs.
We need carbohydrates for normal functioning and on the flipside, excessive carb intake can result in high blood sugar levels and obesity. So, should you consume carbs or not? Absolutely yes, but you need to be mindful of what type of carbs you are taking, in what form, and in what measure. There are both good and bad carbs. Let’s understand this in detail.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (the other two are protein and fat) that our body is dependent on for fuel to carry out daily activities. Metabolization of these macronutrients (carbohydrates are broken down into glucose) releases energy. One gram of carbohydrates translates to 4 calories of energy.
This makes it clear that carbohydrates are one of the primary sources of energy for the cells, including that of brain cells. A diet deficient in carbohydrates can cause weakness, headache, nausea, and concentration problems. Hence, you need carbs that provide you with energy to perform regular activities.
Carbohydrates are commonly present in plant-based foods and dairy products. It comes in the following forms:
A short-chained carbohydrate; it is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and milk products. Glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, and maltose are some of the examples of natural sugars. There are added sugars as well, present in cookies, chocolates, candies, and other processed foods.
Unlike sugar, starch is composed of longer saccharide chains and hence its metabolization takes time. Grains, potatoes, corn, beans, peas, and lentils are some foods rich in starch.
Present in plant-based foods, fibre is indigestible and hence, it moves through the digestive tract mostly intact. Consuming fibre is nonetheless important as it is involved in maintaining digestive health. Dietary fibre is of two kinds - soluble fibre that dissolves in water and regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels and insoluble fibre that aids in bowel movements. Whole grains, cereals, nuts, fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes are some excellent sources of dietary fibre.
Carbohydrates Classification: Simple & Complex Carbohydrates
Based on their chemical structure and the number of sugar molecules, carbohydrates are classified as simple and complex carbohydrates. As it can be understood, simple carbs are made of one or two sugar molecules (monosaccharides and disaccharides) and complex carbs feature longer chains (polysaccharides). Sugar is a simple form of carbohydrate while starch and fibre fall under complex carbohydrates.
The Good and Bad Carbohydrates
Complex carbs are considered ‘good carbohydrates’ owing to their nutritional value, which the simple carbs lack and thus get labelled as ‘bad carbohydrates’. However, they are not out-and-out bad.
Simple carbohydrates can be easily broken down and absorbed by the body, providing it with instant energy. While simple carbs may be what you need when you are low on energy, their consumption must be put in check as they can spike blood sugar levels quickly, especially added sugars. Natural sugars are usually safe as these natural foods contain other important nutrients whereas added sugars in large quantities can be unhealthy.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are digested slowly. As glucose is released rather consistently during their metabolization, drastic changes in blood sugar are less likely. Complex carbs are also packed with many nutrients and fibre, and hence they are an essential part of a balanced diet. Further, they can keep you full for long, thus helping you control overeating.
Another criteria for good carbohydrates is glycemic index (GI), which tells how quickly it can affect your blood sugar levels. Foods with high GI are classified as good carbs.
Good Carbohydrates to Include in Your Diet
Whole grains and whole grain foods are rich sources of good carbohydrates. And as implied, certain simple carbs (found in natural foods like fruits and milk) are good for health too.
Foods with Immense Good Carbs Include:
- Whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa, millets, barley, etc)
- Legumes (beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, soybeans, etc)
- Nuts and seeds
- Sweet potatoes
Bad Carbohydrates to Avoid
Bad carbohydrates, in general, refer to processed or refined carbohydrates. As a considerable amount of nutrients are lost in the process of refining, they do little to no good to the body and hence they must be taken in moderation.
Examples of bad carbs include:
- White bread
- White flour
- White pasta
- Processed foods (chips, bars, etc)
- Baked foods (cookies, cakes, biscuits, pastries, etc)
- Soda & other sugary drinks
In conclusion, it can be said that carbohydrates are good for your body when you take them in their healthy form in the required quantity only, and detrimental to health when you take them as refined foods or in excess quantities. And you must also take care that you consume an appropriate amount of carbs every day as both low and high carb intake can impact normal functioning of your body. Eat healthy and stay healthy!