Carbohydrates are sugars produced by plants during the process of photosynthesis. They are an essential source of energy not only for the plants who produce them but also for us. Carbohydrates can be simple sugars (monosaccharides), double sugars (disaccharides), composed of a few sugars (oligosaccharides), or of many sugars (polysaccharides.) Most foods contain carbohydrates, which the body metabolises into simple sugars. There are two major types of food carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates, or simple sugars, are mostly made of monosaccharides. They are fast-acting. Fructose is a monosaccharide found in honey, fruits and vegetables. Fructose plus glucose forms the disaccharide we know as sucrose or table sugar. Unlike sugar, fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Sugar has no nutritional value and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, it produces a rush that triggers the pancreas to try and re-balance sugar-levels in the blood. Too much sugar over-activates the pancreas, absorbs calcium from your bones and teeth that later gets deposited in your muscles, arteries, joints and major organs, which causes inflammation and can lead to arthritis or osteoporosis. Sugar lowers immunity and creates imbalances throughout your body.
Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are mainly found in grains. Refined grains, such as white flour and white rice, lose nutrients and fibre in the refining process. Whole unprocessed grains contain all three edible parts: the germ, endosperm, and bran. Refined grains are broken down to produce nutritionally imbalanced foods such as isolated bran and wheat germ. White flours have 35% of the original grain removed, leaving starchy granules that are bleached, softened with chemicals and then fortified with synthetic vitamins.
Unless you are sensitive to gluten, opt for sprouted wholegrain breads or spelt bread. Spelt has 30% more protein than whole-wheat, is rich in vitamins and minerals, and contains less gluten making it more digestible. Fibre, though not digested, provides bulk and that feeling of fullness, and assists with the elimination of metabolic waste.
Carbohydrates are essential for our growth and healthy ageing.
Carbohydrates offer protection against many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.¹ Many weight-loss diets promote a low or no carb intake, however a diet high in whole and un-processed complex carbohydrates provides fibre, slower releasing sugars and more vitamins and minerals. Complex carbohydrates should form 70 – 75% of total daily food intake.² If that number seems high remember that complex carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits nuts and seeds.
- Raw or lightly cooked vegetables
- Whole fresh or frozen fruits
- Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
- Whole grains and pseudo grains such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth.
To summarise, good carbohydrates are essential for a healthy diet and include many health benefits:
- Assist with weight loss by providing a feeling of fullness
- Provides dietary fibre to help prevent constipation
- Eliminates toxins from the body
- Helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels
- Decreases the risk of heart disease
- Provides energy for the brain and muscles
Related Post: Refined Sugars: Alternatives
(1) Low–Carbohydrate Diets Health Advisory: Health Concerns