Carbs 101

by Lauren on July 19, 2011

I don’t know about you, but I love carbs. Cereal, oatmeal, bananas, sweet potatoes, quinoa, wheatberries, pasta, pizza, toast…you get the point. Carbs are an important part of a healthy diet because they provide you with energy, glucose for your brain to function properly, prevent ketosis and are a great source of fiber, which is important for digestion & keeps you feeling full longer.

I’m currently reading a book about Diabetes & Hypoglycemia by Michael T. Murry N.D. and one of the chapters is all about carbohydrates and how they affect your blood sugar. Keeping your blood sugar at a regular level is important; especially for diabetics, but also for everyone.

When you eat something with sugar in it your body secretes insulin, which helps lower the amount of glucose in your blood by increasing the rate at which your cells absorb it. Think of insulin as a vacume cleaner for excess glucose. If you’re diabetic; your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which is why Type 1 diabetics have to inject insulin everyday, and avoid high sugar foods and refined carbs.

So what carbs keep your blood sugar at a regular level?

Basically there are two types of carbs: simple and complex.

Simple carbs are made up of one or two types of sugars and are readily used by the body and provide a quick energy source. Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose and corn syrup are all examples of simple carbs.

Good simple carbs include most fruits, honey, maple syrup and some veggies (sweet corn & most root vegetables). Even though they have glucose & fructose in them; they are also paired with a wide range of nutrients that slows down the absorption of sugar; preventing a spike in blood sugar levels. For example, a sweet potato has glucose in it, but is also rich in fiber & vitamins.

Bad simple carbs are white sugar, white bread, white pasta, pastries – basically anything that is made with refined sugar or flour. These types of carbs are stripped of all their nutrients, and the sugars are readily absorbed by the body; causing a quick spike in blood sugar. You may get a quick hit of energy, but once all the sugar is used up; you crash, and are left feeling hungry and tired soon after eating.

Complex carbs or starches are made up of many different simple sugars formed together. Because your body has to take its time to break down each individual sugar; your blood sugar level remains relatively stable. This also means that complex carbs will fuel your body with energy for a lot longer, and you won’t be left feeling hungry soon after eating. Most vegetables, legumes (lentils, nuts, seeds & beans) and whole grains are examples of complex carbs, and should make up a big part of your diet.

Other than its affect on your hunger level; why is blood sugar regulation so important?

If your diet is high in refined carbs your body is working overtime producing enough insulin to try and deal with the constant flow of sugar. Eventually your body becomes insulin resistant, which prevents the insulin from doing its job. The result is too much glucose in your blood, which eventually turns to fat, and you become overweight. This explains why the majority of Type 2 diabetics are overweight. Their diets are too high in refined sugar & carbs and over time their bodies have secreted so much insulin to try and deal with the constant flow of sugar that it’s stopped working. Usually when Type 2 diabetics change their diet and lose weight; their diabetes goes away.

Overall, make sure the majority of your carbs are made up of fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes. And if necessary, choose natural sugars like honey or real maple syrup when sweetening your food.

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