“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The Three Forms of Carbohydrate
The three forms of carbohydrate are monosaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. To understand what each form is, let’s break them down into smaller components.
- Monosaccharides are simple carbohydrates because of their simple chemical structure with one sugar.
They include glucose, fructose, and galactose (dairy products).
- Oligosaccharides are a few monosaccharides chemically linked together found mostly in plants.
Fructo-oligosaccharides are made by short chains of fructose, and raffinose is linked by galactose, glucose, and fructose, while galactooligosaccharides are the short chain of galactose molecules.
Polysaccharides are long chain monosaccharides that typically contain more than 10 monosaccharides.
Starch (digestible energy storage that can break down into glucose) and cellulose (indigestible dietary fiber in plants for gut health) are two examples of polysaccharides. Now let’s delve deeper into each origin and functions.
Glucose is the main energy source for all cells in the body.
Sugar is a carbohydrate that comes from various fruits, plants, grains, and other sources.
Fructose is a sugar found in various plant sources such as honey, flowers, fruits, and root vegetables.
Sucrose, commonly known as table sugar consists of glucose and fructose. It’s found in fruits but also can be made artificially.
Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in the liver and muscle tissues that has the function to transform back into glucose as an energy source for the body.
Once glycogen storage is full, the rest is converted into body fat. As for fructose, the liver converts it into glucose, which is released into the bloodstream for use.
Carbohydrates Are Not Created Equal
All carbohydrates end up as glucose, but what makes them different is the amount of the energy required by the body to break them down into glucose.
For example, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is artificially made with 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. It’s similar to sucrose, naturally found in fruits, except the fructose and glucose are not chemically bonded. Therefore, the body requires less work to metabolize it into glucose compared to natural sucrose.
Another way to differentiate carbohydrates is by using the glycemic index (GI). It’s a rating system that evaluates how different foods can affect the body’s blood sugar (glucose) level. Complex carbohydrates (low GI) release glucose slowly into the bloodstream while simple carbohydrates (high GI) release glucose quickly into the bloodstream.
Foods that produce below 55 on the GI system is low and anything above 70 is high based on the value of 100 for pure glucose. Here are some examples of complex carbohydrates:
Any dark leafy greens (kale, cabbage, and broccoli)
Beans, lentils, and peas
Whole wheat, brown rice, and quinoa
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin
The Effects of Sugar
Lean and physically active people deal with simple sugar better than those who are sedentary and overweight. Although you may lose weight (fat and muscle) by restricting your calorie intake while consuming sugary foods, you may have health-related problems over time due to micronutrient deficiencies of essential minerals and vitamins.
When consumed in moderate quantity, healthy carbohydrate (complex and low GI) is necessary for optimal body function and balance. However, overconsumption is harmful because the body releases free radicals when it metabolizes carbohydrates and sugar. The negative effects of free radicals in the body include:
Feeding pathogens (anti-probiotic)
Taxing the liver and pancreas
The Relationship Between Sugar and Fat Gain
A high sugar intake associates with leanness rather than obesity. What contributes to obesity is overeating!
Because consuming an excess amount of sugar is addictive (release of opioids and dopamine), it can trigger the body to crave for more food. Thus the tendency to overeat increases, especially for sugary beverages.
It’s easier to drink a high-calorie beverage than to eat a high-calorie meal with nutrient-dense food. In addition, the time of satiation after drinking the high-calorie drink is much shorter compared to that of a high-quality meal. This is because the body requires a longer time to metabolize the food than to that of the drink.
The Effects of Insulin
Released into the bloodstream by the pancreas when the body digests food, insulin transport the nutrients from the food into the cells for energy use. Therefore, insulin levels will initially rise when you eat food but gradually decrease to a baseline level until all the nutrients from the food are out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
This process repeats itself every time you eat food.
How Insulin Can Become a Problem
Excess insulin in the body can cause hunger, moodiness, sleepiness, lightheadedness, and bloated feeling. This can be the case when you eat an excessive amount of simple carbohydrates (high GI) that causes the body to produce high levels of insulin because of the high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.
But when you consume complex carbohydrates (low GI) that break down slowly, the level of insulin in the body will be much lower than that of consuming simple carbohydrates.
Because of stimulations of body fat creation while inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of fat cells for energy, insulin resistance is a major reason for fat gain. Therefore, fasted training is effective in burning fat because the body has low levels of glucose and insulin with the absence of undigested food.
When the body is regularly exposed to high levels of insulin because of high glucose level in the blood, it becomes desensitized and the new baseline insulin level is higher than before. As a result, the body requires more insulin to transport the glucose from the bloodstream into the cells.
As this process continuously repeats itself over time, insulin resistance in the body increases. If it’s high, the body can’t produce enough insulin to accommodate for the excessive glucose in the body. The excess glucose in the bloodstream can cause prediabetes, type II diabetes, and other serious health disorders.
Less than 0.1 % of the U.S. population had Type II diabetes in the early 1900s, but that number increased to an astounding 9.3 % in 2012.
In addition to high glucose intake, insulin resistance can also be caused by:
Obesity – especially excess fat around the waist
Fortunately, not all carbohydrates are equal and insulin resistance is reversible by choosing the smarter choice of consuming complex carbohydrates (low GI) along with regular physical exercise.
Carbohydrate and Fat Gain
Because of insulin’s other function to store fat, it’s easier to gain fat when there are higher levels of insulin in the body. When compared to that of protein or dietary fat, carbohydrates generally create a larger insulin increase. For this reason, carbohydrates are the culprit and highly limited in most diets.
And if you’re still hesitant about including carbohydrates into your eating lifestyle, consider the fundamental of energy balance, calorie intake versus calorie expenditure. The body has to consume more energy than it spends (calorie surplus) over time to gain weight. The opposite is also true for losing weight (calorie deficit). You will not magically gain weight if your daily calorie intake doesn’t exceed your daily calorie expenditure.
With that said, most times we underestimate the calories we eat and overestimate the calories we burn during physical exercise. This is especially true when eating out at restaurants that may contain hidden calories from sauces and fats. Therefore, if you’re serious about your health, prepare most of your meals so you know exactly what is in them.
With all the information we just discussed, the key takeaway is this:
The simple solution for a healthy body is to consume most of your daily calories from nutrient-dense foods.
They are unprocessed and naturally low on the GI scale.
When You Should Eat Carbohydrates
The best time to eat carbohydrate is sixty to ninety minutes after physical exercise to help with muscle recovery and refuel glycogen stores.
To build and maintain muscle effectively, adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrate are quintessential. Studies have shown that combined with daily exercise, a low carbohydrate diet decreased free testosterone levels and increased resting cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that breaks down body tissue, including muscle tissue.
If you plan to fast intermittently, it’s important to have plenty of healthy carbohydrates (complex and low in GI) in the prior evening which will improve your sleep and help you feel satiated longer in the morning. To prevent and limit fat gain, avoid simple carbohydrates and sugar in the morning.
All carbohydrates break down into glucose and stored as glycogen in the body for energy, and any excess becomes body fat.
Because not all carbohydrates are equal, steer away from simple carbohydrates and consume complex forms that are incidentally low in GI.
Having an adequate amount of carbohydrate is essential in maintaining and building muscle, but be aware of eating too much. This will also help keep low levels of glucose and insulin in the body.
Obtaining low levels of glucose in the bloodstream will prevent health problems such as diabetes while low levels of insulin will keep insulin resistance low and decrease the likelihood of fat storage.
Sweet potato is one of my favorite choices of healthy carbohydrates, but I boiled them because the cooking method matters.
When compared to the GI of roasted (79) or baked (82) sweet potatoes, the GI of boiled sweet potatoes (41) is about half of those amounts. For extra flavor, I add a teaspoon of coconut oil and a pinch of turmeric.
There will inevitably be times when it’s easy to give in and eat sugary foods (or any unhealthy foods) that are readily available because it’s the path least resistant.
But a simple mindset shift from “I won’t eat that” to “I don’t eat that” will help you overcome that hurdle. That’s because you’re no longer abstaining yourself from eating that unhealthy choice. Instead, you’re making a conscientious choice to remove it from your diet.
Since life is about enjoyment and not deprivation, you can still have that treat. But the best way to have healthy sweets is to make your own using real food and consume in moderation.
Over time you will learn to cultivate self-discipline and achieve your health goals. You realize it’s a permanent shift into a sustainable, enjoyable, and healthy lifestyle.
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