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Essential Carbohydrates - Misused and Misunderstood

Friday, November 12, 2010
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"I skip the rice, no bread for me, no sugar in my coffee, no fruits, no vegetables that are naturally sweet" - This personifies a typical low carbohydrate diet that most weight controllers follow. Nowadays, unhealthy fad diets have labeled carbohydrates as the bane of weight loss efforts.

Is that true? Are carbohydrates our number one health enemy?
Absolutely, Not!
Over the years, this has been the mantra of  the  popular low and very low carbohydrate diets. They have made culprits out of carbohydrates and given them a bad rap. In fact, carbohydrates are one of the most misunderstood nutrients today!

There is some truth to the fact that carbohydrates are harmful. But, that's only half the truth! The other half is that carbohydrates are harmful only if chosen incorrectly. Carbohydrates are actually an indispensable part of any balanced diet.
The three macro-nutrients - carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide energy to the body. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy. They are found in two forms:  Simple (eg. glucose, fructose,lactose) and complex  (e.g. starch, cellulose). Both forms provide 4 calories per gram. They both give glucose as the end product of digestion. Yet the body reacts differently to both forms.

Simple carbohydrates get digested in a short time, but  glucose is released into the blood stream quickly. Thus, the post prandial blood glucose levels tend to suddenly spike. These carbohydrates have a high glycemic index. Insulin  which is required to remove this  glucose from the blood is unable to deal with this sudden surge, especially in diabetics, so glucose remains in the blood, causing hyperglycemia.  These simple carbohydrates also lead to food cravings , higher food consumption and ultimately weight gain. Simple carbohydrates are  thus considered to be "bad carbohydrates".

On the other hand.

When complex carbohydrates are eaten, the body takes longer to digest them, so glucose is released slowly and steadily into the blood stream. Insulin is able to deal with this slow rate of release much more effectively. These are carbohydrates with a low glycemic index and lead to better glycemic control. They have good satiety value and make the person feel fuller for a longer period of time and lead to less overeating. They make an excellent choice for weight watchers. They  are considered to be "good carbohydrates".

50-60% of daily calories for diabetics should come from carbohydrates. But the bulk of this should come from the complex variety of carbohydrates or the good ones. Simple carbohydrates are found in table sugar, candy, refined cereals, desserts, sodas, honey, molasses etc.and these should be avoided. They are usually devoid of other nutrients and fiber unlike the complex ones found in whole grain cereals, legumes, vegetables and nuts, which are also rich in nutrients and fiber. Did you know that fiber also plays an important role in lowering cholesterol, cancer risk and blood pressure.

Some foods like fruit and milk also contain simple carbohydrates but they should not be avoided because they are rich in vital nutrients and are essential for good health.

 For good glycemic control diabetics must keep in mind the following:  
1.    Regular meal timings, correct time spacing of meals and matching of mealtime schedules to insulin are very important.
2.    Carbohydrate counting  is an effective way of keeping track of  total carbohydrate intake.
3.    Studies have shown that consistency in the source and type of carbohydrates from day-to-day is associated with better glycemic control especially for  patients with type1 diabetes as compared with those who have varied daily  intakes.
4.    Regular exercise improves insulin sensitivity  and leads to better glycemic control.
Choosing the right kind and amount of carbohydrates coupled with moderate level physical activity can work wonders in weight reduction diets and in achieving good glycemic control. It makes the person feel healthier and energetic in the short run and reduces the risk of diseases in the long run.
So seek out your good carbohydrates during breakfast (oats), snacks (small servings of nuts and fruit or low fat milk), lunch and dinner (small portions of whole grains with vegetables and low fat yogurt with fruit)                                 

By. Poonam Vaswani,                                                                         

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User Comments

15 December, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods that are white -such as white flour, refined sugar and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.

19 October, 2010 | Jayanti Das | Reply

Jayanti Das Is brown sugar better than white sugar?

03 December, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar No Jayanthi health point of view they are the same. Both provide the same amount of energy,so its best to go easy on sugar whichever colour it is, jaggery, honey, maple syrup etc as they are all as calorie rich as the next

06 December, 2010 | Srichakra Shetty | Reply

Srichakra Shetty Then is dates syrup a healthy option, they will provide sweet and also dates are rich in nutrients. How much of dates syrup can one person use in a day.

09 October, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar ` Bangalored’ again? This time round its regarding `Highest CVD risk’ compared to other Metro`s in India. A survey was conducted by a leading oil company on the lipid profile of people in the main metro cities. On analysing data of around 60,000 respondents, they found Bangalore was at a higher risk around 54.3% as against the national average of 44.8%. The best lipid profile was seen in people of Kolkota, W.Bengal.
A leading Cardiologist in Bangalore, Dr S. S. Ramesh, confirmed that since South Indians in particular mainly eat rice and have a carbohydrate rich diet as against their North Indian counterparts, they tend to suffer more from hypertriglyceridemia and diabetes. The CVD risk is due to adverse Total cholesterol to HDL ratio, seen in those who eat mainly rice. They found 4 out of 10 men between the ages of 30-39 were at a high CVD risk, but the indicators start as early as 26 plus. In women, 1 out of 4 is at risk. While indications are seen at around 35yrs of age they are vulnerable during their post menopausal yrs of 50-59.
So carbohydrates are very important but the wrong type can be a CVD risk. Choose wisely, both type & amount.

09 October, 2010 | Poonam | Reply

Poonam It is interesting to note that the lipid profile was best in West Bengal. Bengalis are known to be regular fish eaters and fish has healthy fats which improve the lipid profile.

03 August, 2010 | Sricharan Mukhopdyay | Reply

Sricharan Mukhopdyay Excellent article and the need of the hour.What a pity our eating habits are changing so much and traditional dense or high fibre Carb foods are nowhere in the reckoning. More and more such articles will make people sit up and understand good healthy eating. I am tired of seeing the young girls pick and eat. kudos NV. I am an ardent fan of your website and love the constant update on new issues and highly informative articles, keep it up.

10 August, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy I still remember the menu of my Grandparents house in my native. Everyday we used to have salads in the form of Kosambari, one cooked vegetable, dhal in the form of sambar or Kootu (with one or two veggies), Rasam (like a soup), brown rice (polished rice was not known to them)and buttermilk. They made sure we had good serving of green and yellow veggies everyday. The evening snack was always a fruit. Sweets and fried food was an occasional treat made only on festivals.

Looks like we should get back to our roots and evaluate what they ate and how nutritious it was. Over a period of time we have lost the touch of healthy cooking.

28 June, 2010 | Siddharth | Reply

Siddharth No food group, be it carbohydrate, fats or proteins are our enemy on their own. It is us who make these our enemy by consuming inappropriate amounts or by selecting wrong food items. Moderation is keyword.One should watch out for portion sizes and be physically active.

04 June, 2010 | Kanika Jain | Reply

Kanika Jain As aptly written in the article, it is not carbohydrate that is our enemy, but the amount and type that we eat. Carbohydrates, like all other nutrients, have important role to play in our body. However, we should know amount of carbohydrate required by our body. Also, simple carbohydrates like table sugar and refined cereals should be avoided.

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