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Carbohydrates: What Are They and How Do They Impact Our Lives?

What is the first food that comes to mind when you hear the word carbs? Maybe its bread, pasta or even potatoes. I am here to tell you that you are most definitely not wrong. But did you know that fruits and vegetables are carbs as well? This is true! I know shocking right!? Before you ban all carbs from your diet, let me give the 411 on why carbs are very healthy for you and why they need to be in your diet.

So you ready have your mind blown? Carbohydrates, whether they are from fruit, bread or even spinach gets turned into sugar once your body breaks it down. Crazy right!? We are told from a young age that a lot of sugar is not good for you and to limit our intake of this sweet substance. But I am here to tell you that you can have carbohydrates in your diet and still live a long healthy life.
Carbohydrates are categorized into two separate categories depending on the structure of their molecules. Simple or Complex. Simple carbohydrates are exactly what the same says, simple. They only consist of one or two linked sugar molecules, making them quickly digestible. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are again exactly what the same states, complex. These are made up of three or more linked sugar molecules. Having more molecules, the complex carbohydrates take longer and more energy from the body to digest compared to the simple carbohydrates.
So, what happens when you eat carbs? During digestion your body breaks down carbs into their monosaccharide (one single sugar molecule) building block. When this happens the blood sugar level increases. The more complex the carbohydrate, the steadier increase of blood sugar levels. Why is this important you may ask? When your blood sugar increases a hormone called insulin is secreted into the blood from the pancreases. Insulin is the body’s main tool for sugar management. Sugar moves from digestion to blood stream to be transferred into tissues to be processed and used for energy. Insulin promotes your muscle and fat cells to let glucose (sugar) in and jump starts the conversion of sugar to energy.
Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients, as well as fibre and starches. Your body does not know the difference between fibre and starchy food but does process each differently. Starch molecules are linked together by Alpha Linkage that can be easily split apart by enzymes in your digestive track. Foods high in starch such as white bread and crackers digest easily, quickly releasing a bunch of sugar into your blood. Exactly what would happen if you drank something high in sugar such as pop. Fibre molecules on the other hand are held together by Beta Bonds. These type of bonds your body can not break down but aid in controlling blood sugar levels by slowing the release of sugar into the blood stream, managing blood pressure and increasing the feeling of being full.
What is the glycemic index? The glycemic index is a value assigned to a particular food based on how slowly or how quickly it raises the sugar in your blood. High Glycemic Index foods consist of white breads, bran/corn flakes, and russet potatoes to name a few. These are foods that get broken down quickly, spiking the blood sugar levels which in return releases insulin into the blood stream. Choosing food with a medium to low glycemic index are healthier choices and will keep you feeling fuller longer.
Insulin sensitivity is the degree to which a unit of insulin lowers the blood sugar. The more a given unit lowers the blood sugar the more sensitive you are to insulin. Consuming lots of food that have a high glycemic index can result insulin resistance. This can be a result from your insulin sensitivity being decreased. The pancreas sends out insulin to help control blood sugar levels but cells, especially muscle cells are less and less responsive to it. So blood sugar fails to decrease and blood insulin begins to rise. Insulin resistance is connected to a condition called metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions – increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist – that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Eating a healthy diet consisting of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates will aid you in living a long healthy life. This combined with a regular exercise routine will keep excess weight at bay, as well as prevent certain health conditions from arising.