Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Coping with carbohydrates


Coping with carbohydrates


Carbohydrates include simple sugars and complex carbohydrates (starches), and we put fiber in this category, too. Dietary carbohydrates are found in foods that come from plant sources. Your body uses carbohydrates as fuel, so a large part of your diet should be made up of carbohydrates. In fact, about half of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates — but
some are better than others. All carbohydrates are made up of some combination of three simple sugars officially known as monosaccharides (single sugar units). These three sugars are galactose (milk sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and glucose (the type of sugar your body uses as fuel). Sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar) are other types of simple sugars called disaccharides (two-sugar units). Lactose is made up of glucose and galactose and is formed in the mammary glands in breast tissue. Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose. It doesn’t matter whether the sugar is white, brown, or raw (turbinado); they’re all the same. Sucrose molecules are broken down and digested very quickly. Your body either uses the resultant fructose and glucose molecules as energy or converts them to fat and stores them on your body, usually on your belly, butt, or thighs. Starch (a complex carbohydrate) is made up of long chains of glucose molecules. Starch isn’t broken down as quickly as sucrose, but it’s still metabolized efficiently. And, just like simple sugars, extra starch is converted to fat. Fiber is plant material that you can’t digest, but it’s very important for good health. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water; instead, it absorbs it. Insoluble fiber remains in solid form, adding bulk to your stool, which helps the muscles of the colon move stool through the digestive system. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forming a protective gel that also adds bulk (and works as a natural stool-softener) and has other important health benefits such as lowering cholesterol. So which carbohydrates are good and which ones are bad? The refined carbohydrates that aren’t accompanied by any (or only very little) fiber are usually bad, with table sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) being the worst. They’re highly refined, so they add a lot of sweetness but don’t provide any nutrition other than calories. Diets high in sucrose and HFCS lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Refined flour is just a step or two above refined sugar. Refined flour has had most of the fibrous parts (along with a good bit of the nutrition) removed.Most flour is enriched, however, which adds several vitamins back. Foods like regular pasta, white bread, and crackers are made from refined flour. Choose whole-grain (unrefined) products whenever possible to increase the amount of fiber in your diet because, unlike refined grains, whole grains retain the parts of the plant that contain the healthy fiber content. Good carbohydrates are usually accompanied by a good dose of fiber. Besides whole grains, good carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, many of which have attained superfood status. Fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which helps to regulate your blood sugar level (which is good for energy and for preventing diabetes) and keeps you feeling full. The best part is that fiber has zero calories.Fruit juices are high in natural sugars and low in fiber (unless you leave in the pulp), but they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals, so they’re good carbohydrates. One bit of caution if you’re watching your weight: The natural sugars in fruit juice are absorbed quickly and can be high in calories. Eat whole fresh fruits whenever you can.The best carbohydrates are found in most of our superfoods. They are unrefined carbohydrates accompanied by nutrients and phytochemicals (see the upcoming section “Zeroing in on superfoods nutrients: Phytochemicals”), and/or are high in fiber.

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