Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sugar: Simple and Complex Carbs

If you missed the beginning of my sugar series you can catch up with these links:

Sugar: How Much Are You Eating?
Sugar: So Many Names
Sugar: More on Labels


(info from Get the Sugar Out by Anne Louise Gittleman)


Carbohydrates are one of three energy-producing nutrients our bodies need. The other two are protein and fat. As a fuel, carbohydrates are the cleanest burning of the three and the best provider of glucose, a fuel our muscles need for get-up-and-go and a fuel our brains need for clear thinking and steady behavior.

There are two significantly different types of carbohydrates--simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates, which consist of one or two sugar units in every molecule, are also known as simple sugars. They supply virtually instant energy for the body, but they don’t provide energy that lasts. As you might have guessed, table sugar (also known as dextrose or sucrose) is one type of simple sugar. But so are natural sweeteners like honey and molasses; fructose, which is found naturally in fruits and can also be a sweetener; and lactose, which is a naturally occurring sugar found in dairy products.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are made up of long chains of simple sugars. As their name implies, they are much more complex in structure than simple sugars and require longer digestion to be absorbed. This is beneficial in the long run because the sugars they contain are released more slowly and gradually in the bloodstream, supplying steadier, longer-lasting energy for the body. Complex carbohydrates are found in starches (such as whole grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes), legumes (such as beans and peas), and vegetables (such as lettuce, broccoli, and zucchini).

It is important to differentiate between simple and complex carbs. Go for complex and limit the simple.

The problem is that most things that SHOULD be complex carbohydrates actually are more like simple carbohydrates after all the processing that they go through. Pasta, breads and bagels are treated by the body like simple sugars because they are highly refined. According to Gittleman, “In refining, nutrient- and fiber-rich whole grains are converted into processed foods that have a long shelf life, but many calories and few nutrients. Nutritionally, there is little difference between processed carbohydrates and simple sugars. In fact, far from being healthy foods, these processed carbohydrates contribute to blood-sugar, weight, and malnutrition problems and give us little in return.”

So, we eat sugar or processed carbs. The body breaks them down. Sugar is released into the bloodstream. In response to the high amounts of sugar the pancreas secretes insulin.  Insulin helps restore blood-sugar equilibrium. When you eat excess sugar you may notice that you experience a burst of energy but then quickly hit a low as well. But what you may not know is that the insulin is removing sugar from the bloodstream and storing it as fat.

Isn’t that fun!?


We are eating sugary foods that are loaded with calories. Our bodies store all that extra sugar as fat. But we are still hungry because our bodies get no nutrients from those refined sugary foods.

Make good choices with the carbs!

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