Carbohydrates Explained


Carbohydrates are the body’s prime energy source. They help in the proper function of the brain as well as the body’s muscles by transforming sugar into the energy your body truly needs. There are two main types of carbohydrate, simple and complex.

1 gram of Carbohydrates = 4 Calories

What Are Simple Carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates or the monosaccharides are made up of only one kind of sugar, such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose).We get our simple carbohydrates from foods such as milk, white bread, white rice, fruit or soft drinks. This is the type of carbohydrate is digested by the body very quickly as they are already at their simplest form and do not require the body to break them down any further to create energy. This means that when you eat simple carbohydrates, you will get a short and rapid boost of energy. It’s like lighting a firework, once you light it, you get a lot of immediate energy but it only lasts a short time.

So, Simple Carbohydrates are:

Usually the foods you love!

Simple, so the body can use them quickly

Usually taste sweet like sugar

Provide a quick boost of energy

Energy boost doesn’t last long

Usually have a high glycemic index (more of this later on!)

Referred to as ‘bad carbs’

‘Bad Carbs’

When you hear someone refer to “bad” carbs, they are generally talking about simple carbohydrates. Examples are white Bread, white Rice, cakes cookies, soft drinks.  These bad carbs should be avoided because they offer little to no nutritional value, while adding way too many KJ to our diet; making them “empty” calories. Eating a diet that is full of bad carbohydrates can lead to a host of medical problems. These issues include weight gain, an increase in the risk of Type 2 diabetes and an increased chance of heart disease.

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates or polysaccharides are created by linking together three or more sugar chains. By having more complex chains, it takes the body longer to break down the carbohydrates resulting in a gradual release of energy over a longer period of time. Complex carbohydrates , come from starches like cereal, bread, beans, potatoes, and starchy vegetables. These carbohydrates typically are high in fibre, which takes the body longer to break down and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

So, Complex Carbohydrates are:

Usually the foods you hate!

They are complex, so the body takes longer to break them down

Mainly found in wholegrains, beans cereals and vegetables

Provide gradual release of energy

Energy supplied for a long period of time.

Usually have a lower Glycemic Index

“Good” Carbs

The term “good” carbs refer to fibre rich carbohydrates, like those found in many complex carbohydrates. Good carbs are absorbed into our systems more slowly, which helps us avoid escalations in blood pressure. The nutritional value of good carbohydrates offers our bodies more energy to burn so that we can keep our bodies going. Examples of good carbs are whole grain and whole wheat cereals and breads, rolled oats, legumes and sweet potatoes

What Happens When You Eat Carbohydrates?

Every time you eat carbohydrates the body breaks them down into a form of sugar called glucose. Glucose is then burned and used as a source of energy.

So when you eat carbohydrates it is like throwing wood on a fire. The fire burns the wood and uses to it stay alive.

However there is only so much glucose the body needs or can use at any one time, so the unused glucose is converted to glycogen and stored as a reserve supply of energy. It’s like keeping a few extra logs by the fireplace, so you can use them when the fire is dying down

These glycogen reserves can only store a limited amount of energy, so when they are full, glucose is then stored as fat. As you probably already know, the body can store a lot of fat!

Glucose And Insulin

What helps the body to use glucose is a hormone called insulin, which is secreted by your pancreas. Insulin is a very important hormone, because high levels of glucose are dangerous and can damage the body. This means insulin must be secreted after meal, to make sure the food you eat doesn’t kill you!

The trouble with insulin is that every time it is released into the body, your cells become more and more resistant to it.

This means that over time the pancreas will have to release more insulin than it used too, in order for the body to use glucose and keep it at safe levels.

In the medical world this is known as insulin resistance. It is unavoidable and happens to everyone.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance caused by continually high insulin levels in your bloodstream impairs your ability to switch on a satiety centre in the brain. You then enter a vicious cycle of continuous weight gain combined with hunger. Whilst you cannot prevent insulin resistance, you can control how quickly it develops. This is because different foods vary in the amount of insulin they cause the pancreas to release after they are eaten.

High Carb Foods

High carb foods are carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index.This means that when you eat them, they cause a large and rapid release of insulin in the body

The significance of this is that the more insulin your cells are exposed to, the more rapidly they will develop insulin resistance. One of the most obvious signs of insulin resistance is rapid weight gain.

Although there are many other signs of insulin resistance, a high level of resistance can be seen in males and females in 2 places. If you’re a male the first signs of high insulin resistance begin in the belly.  If you can’t see your toes there’s a good chance your cells have developed a very high level of insulin resistance, which is now causing you to have a fat stomach.

If you’re a female, have a look at your bum! High insulin resistance in females often appears as fat accumulation in the buttocks first and then fat around the waist.

Why Does Fat Indicate Insulin Resistance?

The reason we look at body fat to indicate the level of resistance, is because insulin has the ability to prevent the body from using stored fat as a source of energy.

This means that if you are eating high carb foods throughout the day that have a high glycemic index, your insulin levels will be high and your body will continue to store fat, rather than burn fat. So if you are trying to lose weight, then it is best to avoid eating sugary foods.

You eat simple carbs

Body turns to carbs to glucose and uses as energy

Pancreas produces insulin to remove excess glucose

Excess glucose stored as glycogen in liver and muscles

Glycogen stores are limited. Body stores Excess as fat.

Blood glucose levels return to normal but insulin still storing excess glucose as fat.

You feel hungry so ingest carbs again.

The whole process starts over

You’re Getting fatter but feeling hungry at the same time

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