The Carb Conundrum
Updated: Apr 5
It’s time to continue our macronutrient talk. Carbohydrates, or "carbs" for short, are one of the three macronutrients found in food, the other two being protein and fat. Carbs are essential for the body to function properly, as they provide the primary source of energy for the body's cells.
Carbs are found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, and grains. They can be classified into two main types: simple and complex. Simple carbs, also known as simple sugars, are made up of one or two sugar molecules and are quickly digested by the body. Examples of foods that contain simple carbs include table sugar, honey, syrup, and fruit juice.
Complex carbs, also known as starches, are made up of long chains of sugar molecules and take longer to digest. Examples of foods that contain complex carbs include bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and legumes.Now let’s take a look at how carbs are used by the body.
When we consume carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose. When this happens, the pancreas is triggered to release insulin. The insulin drives the glucose into the body cells so it can be used as fuel for various activities throughout the day (including breathing, sleeping, and digesting food). Any unused glucose will be stored as glycogen. Now think about a car for a moment. A car goes to the gas station for fuel. Now think of the gas tank that stores the gas- the glycogen. Now what happens when the gas tank is full and you continue to fill the tank with gas? The gas would spill over onto ground into a dangerous puddle at your feet. Well, when there is no longer any room to store glycogen, the body stores the extra glucose into fat.
As you can see by the chart below, simple carbohydrates spike your insulin significantly and fuels you body for a short amount of time- leaving you hungry again 30-60 minutes later. If the majority of your diet includes these types of carbohydrates can not only raise your insulin to dangerous levels (over time leading to insulin resistance and diabetes), but too many of these carbs cause inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury, infection, or tissue damage. While inflammation is a necessary and beneficial process for the body's healing, prolonged or chronic inflammation can contribute to the development of several diseases. Here are some examples:
1. Arthritis: Inflammation of the joints can lead to different types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. 2. Asthma: Inflammation of the airways in the lungs can cause asthma, a condition that makes it difficult to breathe. 3. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and weight loss. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two most common forms of IBD. 4. Cardiovascular disease: Chronic inflammation can damage blood vessels and lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. 5. Diabetes: Inflammation can interfere with insulin signaling and contribute to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body is less responsive to insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels and diabetes. 6. Alzheimer's disease: Chronic inflammation in the brain has been linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes progressive memory loss and cognitive decline.
So does this mean give up carbs all together? Not at all!
When choosing carbs, chose those that are anti-inflammatory. It is now recommended that we strive to eat between 9-11 servings of colorful veggies and fruits a day (3-4 times more veggies than fruits). Include legumes and whole grains. When choosing whole grains- pick grains that actually look like the way they are grown- such as barley, farro, and quinoa. Food that are made with whole grains but are processed (such as whole grain bread) should be used in moderation.