“Carbs are really bad for you” is probably the most widespread statement of the 21st century. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are labeled bad because of how they impact your blood sugar levels. The truth is, different types of carbs impact your blood sugar differently. It all depends on the type of carbs you consume. Let’s discuss the most controversial topic when it comes to dieting.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are basic sugar molecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbs are one of the three macros essential for your day-to-day functioning. There are primarily two types of carbs that you need to know about. They are:
Simple carbohydrates: These are simple molecules of sugars, also known as monosaccharides (one sugar unit) and disaccharides (two sugar units). Simple sugars like lactose are inherently present in certain foods (Ex: milk), and sugars like sucrose are added to certain foods as sweeteners. Simple carbs are absorbed in the initial stages of your small intestine resulting in quick absorption. This causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, providing you with a boost of energy soon after consuming them.
Complex carbohydrates: These are made from simple carbs strung together in complex, long chains. There are two types of complex carbs: starches and fibers.
Starches: This group contains foods like potatoes, oats, cereals, breads, and more. Starches are different from simple carbohydrates as they do not spike your blood sugar levels rapidly; instead, they take longer to digest and provide you with energy for a prolonged period of time.
Fiber: Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is not broken down by the body like other crabs. Both soluble and insoluble fiber have a variety of health benefits. Fiber does not spike your blood sugar because your body does not digest it.
Okay, now that you know what carbs are and the different types, let’s dive into understanding how they impact your body and why you need to consume them.
How does your body digest carbs?
The digestion of carbs starts right when you start chewing your food. Your saliva consists of a salivary amylase enzyme responsible for breaking down carbs into smaller, simpler molecules. Carbs are digested further in your small intestine. While passing through your small intestine, your pancreas releases an enzyme called pancreatic amylase to break down starches into disaccharides (two sugar units). Enzymes in your small intestine like lactase, sucrase, and maltase break down disaccharides into monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose). These simple sugars are absorbed by your intestine walls and transported to your liver through the portal vein.
Your liver will convert monosaccharides like fructose and galactose into glucose. Some of this glucose will be distributed to your body through the bloodstream into individual cells with the help of an enzyme called insulin. Hence, blood sugar level is the total quantity of glucose in your blood.
The rest of the glucose in your liver will either be used up for more energy or converted into glycogen and stored in the liver for further use such as during fasts. Glycogen will also be stored in your muscles for consumption during fasting periods or any physical activity. The glycogen content in your muscle might vary from others, but it’s approximately 500 grams for most people.
Understanding how your body absorbs carbs is essential to knowing what type of carbs you need to consume during different periods. Let’s talk about the tool used to measure how carbs impact your blood sugar levels.
Glycemic index (GI) is a tool used to measure how specific foods impact your blood sugar levels. There are three different ratings for GI:
Low - 0 to 55
Medium - 56-69
High - 70 or above.
Foods with a higher GI impact your blood sugar adversely by causing spikes and crashes, and foods with a low GI are able to maintain your blood sugar at steady levels.
What are the carbohydrates that you need to consume?
Simple carbs are absorbed in the primary stages of your small intestine, which causes your blood sugar to spike. This spike will drastically drop after insulin does its job. (If this process repeats too often over a period of several years then it leads to type 2 diabetes). Simple carbs usually have a higher GI, while complex carbs have a lower GI.
Fiber plays a vital role in the digestion and absorption of carbs. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water but can help food move through your digestive system. A higher consumption of insoluble fiber was linked to a 37 percent decreased incidence of diverticular disease, a condition in which pouches form in the intestine, according to one observational study involving nearly 40,000 males.
You can consume simple sugars if you use up a lot of energy right after consuming them. You should consume a lot of fiber with simple sugars to maintain a steady blood sugar level.
Usually Carbohydrates make up 50-60% of most people's daily calories. They have a total of 4 calories per gram. To understand how you could include carbs in your diet refer to this article.
Here are some sources of carbs that are healthy and you SHOULD consume:
- Fruits and starchy vegetables
- Beans and lentils
- Whole grains like oats, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, and more
- Dairy foods like yogurt, cheese, and milk
- Happy Ratio: All Macros Nutrition Health Shakes
Carbs in Happy Ratio: The All-In-One Health Shake formulation contains fructose, maltodextrin, Isomaltulose, and wheat fibers. Each Happy Ratio serving comprises 27.5 grams of carbohydrates and 2.95 grams of fiber.
The carbs that you must AVOID as much as you can are:
- Fruit juices
- Refined and processed foods
- Foods high in sucrose
Carbohydrates are the fuel you need for your daily functioning. Like proteins and fats, carbohydrates have an important role in your diet. It is important to read the nutritional label and the ingredients list to know what you are consuming. Although several factors like physical activity and stress affect your blood sugar levels, consuming the right carbs might benefit you in more ways than one!