Carbohydrates and Health
Foods are made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those substances needed for growth, metabolism and other bodily functions. As implied by the name (macro) these nutrients are needed in fairly large amounts to sustain life and include fat, protein and carbohydrates. Each of these macronutrients contains calories (carbohydrates and protein provide four calories per gram while fat provides nine calories per gram). The only other dietary substance that provides calories is alcohol at seven calories per gram. There is not enough space in this article to discuss alcohol in any depth but suffice to say that it is a fairly dense calorie source and there are numerous pros and cons related to consumption. Because it is not necessary to sustain life, alcohol is not a nutrient and no one would face a health challenge if they abstained.
Carbohydrates are largely misunderstood. There are low carb and no carb diets and special foods reporting low “net carbs.” What is so special about carbohydrates anyway? Carbohydrates are easily converted to glucose and serve as the bodys main source of fuel. Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and liver and used later for energy as needed. They are critical for the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and for muscles to function properly. Carbohydrates are the only fuel that is used by your brain under normal (non-starvation) conditions and they are cleaner burning than other fuels your body uses. Most nutritional experts agree that about 50% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
Are all carbohydrates created equal? Absolutely not! There are complex carbohydrates sometimes referred to as starches which come primarily from grains, potatoes and other starchy vegetables. There are simple carbohydrates referred to as sugars and these come from some fruits, vegetables and other sweet foods. Fiber is also a carbohydrate and absolutely essential for good health. So how might you choose your carbohydrates to ensure the maximum health benefit? There is a concept called glycemic impact (GI) which can help. GI is a more general term which encompasses both glycemic index and glycemic load. The GI basically provides information on the impact that a particular food might have on your blood sugar level.
The goal is to eat in such a way that you stabilize your blood glucose level. This is important for individuals who have health challenges including metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The incidence of type 2 diabetes in the US continues to rise and that is due largely to the over-consumption of high glycemic carbohydrates. Limiting consumption of foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, chips and sweets and making sure you eat 8-12 cups of vegetables daily is a step in the right direction.
How does low GI eating reduce cardiovascular risk? The synthesis of cholesterol in your liver starts with carbohydrates not fats. Consider for a moment that the incidence of heart disease has been steadily increasing over the past decade despite the fact that numerous organizations have promoted low-fat diets. An accepted explanation is that when US food companies developed specialized low-fat products, they actually increased the amount of sugar in the products to make them more palatable. See for yourself by comparing sugar content on labels from “low-fat” and “regular” products made by the same company the next time youre at the store. Consider a low GI lifestyle it can significantly improve your health and well being and provide you with lots of energy!