Which Carbohydrates should I eat?

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Similar to 'The Fat Question' written by Dejan - an article that highlighted the importance of fat consumption and which fats to ditch and to date. I intend in a similar manner to delve into carbohydrates and discuss which have a particular impact positively and also negatively on our personal nutrition.

Carbohydrates, which are sugars and starches are typically found in grains, fruits and vegetables, and provide us with fast-acting energy to feed our brain, muscles and metabolism. Consumed in their natural state, carbohydrates contain a large amount of minerals, vitamins and fibre and are basically your body's main source of fuel. There are two types - simple and complex - which your body uses very differently.

Essentially simple carbohydrates are nothing more than sugar. There are numerous types of sugar but the two main ones are called glucose and fructose, combined they are known as sucrose - commonly named table sugar. Whether you are eating a banana or drinking a can of coke, most sweet foods, from strawberries to Jelly Beans, contain a combination of both glucose and fructose.


The main source of energy for your brain and body is glucose - it is the "sugar" in blood sugar and is easily absorbed into your blood as it is already in the form required for absorption. As a result of this glucose is the type of carbohydrate that raises blood sugar fastest. The higher a food's number on the glycemic index (GI), the greater the effect it can have on your blood sugar. Glucose in small amounts can be stored in muscles and in the liver as glycogen. During exertion glycogen is secreted into the bloodstream to fuel your muscles for their work, once depleted, muscles will become fatigued. If you overeat carbohydrates and do not burn off the excess calories - your glycogen levels can fill to capacity. When this happens, your body starts converting any excess glucose in the bloodstream into body fat.


Fructose is different to glucose, it is naturally found in fruit but also added to processed foods and does not spike blood sugar. That is because to use fructose, your body must first send it from your intestines to your liver and from there, your body converts it to glucose and stores it. However if the stores of glucose within the liver are already at capacity, then any excess fructose will become body fat. Thus consuming too much fructose, now found within packaged foods could lead to a larger - rounder belly, because this area of the body is where you most efficiently store excess calories.

Complex carbohydrates consist of three or more sugars and are rich in fibre.


This is the stored form of glucose or energy in most green plants and can be found in grains, legumes, and root vegetables, such as potatoes. Basically starch is a collection of glucose molecules held together by a weak chemical bond - thus making it easier for the body to break down once eaten, leaving you with pure glucose. Consumed without fat or fibre, which slows the absorption of glucose, starch will have an adverse effect on blood sugar - causing it to rise.


Fibre can be found naturally in the plants we eat and has no effect on blood sugar. The reason being that human digestive enzymes are unable to break down fibre - giving it the reputation as a "non digestible carbohydrate". This is true for insoluble fibre, and can be found in wheat bran, nuts, brown rice, bulgur, zucchini and many other vegetables. It has a thicker and rougher structure and will not dissolve in water, so it passes through your digestive tract.

Soluble fibre, the kind found in oats, beans, barley, and some fruits, dissolves in water to form gel-like material in your digestive tract. This slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, removes cholesterol - and slows digestion giving you that fuller feeling for longer.

In general, an over consumption of food products containing either or both glucose and fructose is not recommended - in fact you should only consume in accordance to your level of energy expenditure. Fibre is clearly key - and has numerous health benefits particularly aiding digestive health. Those who add fibre to their diet tend to lose more weight than those who do not. Do not become overtly concerned with which kind of fibre you are eating - unless you are seeking specific health benefits, such as eating more soluble fibre to reduce cholesterol. Focus on eating a diet that is rich in vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. This will give you a variety of soluble and insoluble fibres.

Overall, avoiding glucose and certain sources of fructose while increasing consumption of dietary fibre could have a significantly positive effect on your health.

For further details on the health benefits of high-fibre diets check out The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


carbohydrate Fibre fructose glucose health benefits simple carbohydrates starch sugar

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