Carbohydrates are sugar compounds made by plants when the plants are exposed to light. This process of making sugar compounds is called photosynthesis.
Carbohydrates come in two varieties – simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
- Simple carbohydrates are found in sugar, honey, dry fruits, fresh fruits, fruit juice, milk, yogurt.
- Complex carbohydrates are found in vegetables, whole-grains (such as barley, oats, millet, brown rice, rye, corn, etc.), legumes (beans), and beets.
Carbohydrates and glucose
Carbohydrates are the best source of fuel, as they can be most easily converted into glucose. The glucose can be turned into immediate energy, and any excess is kept as a reserve in the liver and the muscles. It is stored in the form of glycogen, which is easily converted back into glucose when required. During the fight or flight’ response, glycogen is released into the bloodstream to make extra energy available for the body.
The molecules broken down from protein, fats and carbohydrates are complex sugars, unlike the sugar that is added to commercial foods.
The best known commercial “empty” food and energy stealers are:
table sugar, white flour, bread, pasta, white rice, canned fruits,
canned drinks, canned baked beans, alcohol, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks,
cakes, biscuits, ready made meal, prepared sauces, most cereal,
junk foods and sweets.
People who abuse those food stimulate the hormone adrenaline, which is made by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline is produced primarily when the body perceives a threat or a challenge – the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome – to prepare itself for action. It causes the heart to beat faster, the lungs to take in more air, the liver to release extra glucose into the blood, and blood to divert from non-vital areas to where it will be more use, such as the legs. If adrenaline is constantly over-produced because of stimulant foods, it may lead to general fatigue. Often we have no idea how much sugar we are eating. When you look at the label of the food items, you’ll find sugar almost everywhere. However, a diet that is too high in carbohydrates can upset the delicate balance of blood sugar level.
Stress is also an energy stealer, because it encourages the release of stored glucose from the liver and muscles, providing short-term energy but long-term fatigue, as energy stores are constantly being depleted. During the fight or flight’ response, the liver releases glycogen (stored sugars) into the blood, raising blood sugar. Therefore prolonged exposure to stress can play havoc with blood sugar levels. In the same way, caffeine and stimulants such as nicotine in cigarettes also raise blood sugar by stressing the adrenal glands – these release two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which interfere with digestive process and direct the liver to release stored glycogen.
Carbohydrates and Energy
It is important to minimize those dietary factors that rob the body of energy or interfere with energy production. Your body runs on glucose, the molecules your cells burn for energy. To have extra energy we need to:
- Maximize high-quality carbohydrates, especially those that are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and that boost metabolism and sustain consistent energy levels.
- Minimize refined “empty” carbohydrates which leave you, not only, without energy, they also lead you to diabetes, coronary heart disease, kidney disease, premature age etc.
All carbohydrates foods have what is known a glycemic value’ or glycemic index’, which measures the effect that foods have on your blood sugar level. When you digest your food, both simple and complex carbohydrates are converted to glucose, your body’s primary energy fuel. The difference is how fast it happens.
Foods that have low glycemic value are found in complex carbohydrates such whole grains, legumes, vegetables. When you eat these foods, the glucose gets released into your blood slowly and steadily. As your blood sugar slowly rises, your pancreas slowly releases insulin to carry the glucose into your cells. That is why we say these foods have a low glycemic index – the glucose enters your blood-stream slowly.
Foods that have high glycemic value are found in refined and simple carbohydrates. The higher the value, the more quickly the sugars in the food will affect your blood sugar level. If blood sugar level rises too rapidly, it will come crashing down with a release of insulin, leaving you tired and more lethargic. This pancreatic reaction is known as ‘reactive hypoglycemia’ which if it lasts over an extended period, it can lead you to diabetes.
But what about fresh fruits and honey?
Fruits are irreplaceable, natural source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. But many physicians have recommended that individuals with diabetes or hypoglycemia avoid fruits and fructose (the primary form of sugar found in fruits) because most fruits are digested rapidly, and can affect blood-sugar balance. However recent researches challenges this approach. Fructose does not cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels. Because fructose must be changed to glucose in the liver in order to be utilized by the body. Blood glucose levels do not rise as rapidly after fructose consumption compared to the other simple sugars. As a bonus, fructose has actually been shown to enhance the sensitivity to insulin by thirty-four percent when fed to non-insulin-dependent diabetics over a period of four weeks. Even so, sugar is sugar and should be kept to a minimum by selecting lower-carbohydrates fruits such as: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, plum, orange, kiwi, pink grapefruit, red grapes, green grapes, banana, apple, tomato, pear, honeydew melon. If you tend to have problem with blood sugar balance, fruits have to be combined with nuts, or seeds. The lower glycemic index of some fruits means that your blood sugar stays steadier.
Honey as a simple carbohydrate has high glycemic value, same as fruit. But honey is also very well known natural food-medicine for over 4000 years. It contains minerals, vitamins and enzymes. You can use it in different combination with food and drinks. For instance with tea, yogurt, lemonade or with whole grain bread.
Eat foods low in carbohydrates and high in antioxidants. It is crucial to balance the two. Fortunately, many of the best low-carbohydrates foods are also very high in artery-protecting, cancer-fighting antioxidants such as carotenoids.
Unrefined carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are relatively low in carbohydrates and release their sugar slowly into your blood.
By contrast, a typical human today eats very few unrefined carbohydrates.
Instead, we eat huge amounts of refined carbohydrates,
mostly in the form of sugar (especially table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup),
skim milk, fruit juice, dried fruit, and refined starches
(white flour in bread, baked goods, pasta, and the like).
To this is added other starchy foods such as baked potatoes and white rice.
This is a diet that your body was never meant to cope with.
It plays havoc with your blood sugar and your insulin.
Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces to control the use, distribution,
and the storage of energy in your body by processing blood sugar.
Insulin fuels your body by carrying glucose from your blood to your cells,
where it is then carried to the mitochondria, tiny structures within
the cells that act as little power plants to burn the glucose.
Eating the typical high-carbohydrates diet means that your body is constantly producing large amounts of insulin to cope with all that glucose. If, like most people, you eat that diet in large portions, you are going to have a lot of leftover glucose in your blood, which your insulin will promptly convert to fat. Because the insulin can not carry much glucose to your cells to be burned as fuel, the glucose remains in your blood. Insulin converts some of the excess sugar to fat instead. When you have extra sugar floating around in your bloodstream it is very damaging. Your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and nerves are particularly vulnerable.
There is abundant evidence that excess insulin and excess sugar in the blood cause you to produce large numbers of free radicals.