Are there healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates?

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Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found naturally in plant foods, including peas and beans, nuts and seeds, grains, dairy and dairy products, fruits and vegetables.

The other two macronutrients are dietary fat and protein.

Carbohydrates are a essential nutrient – which means a person has to get it from the diet – and the body needs them to function properly, as they serve as main source of energy.

The word “carbohydrate” is an umbrella term that describes various types of sugar-containing molecules found in foods.

Generally, there are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and dietary fiber.

They can be further classified into simple or complex carbohydrates, depending on the number and type of sugar molecules – such as glucose – that each structure contains.

Simple carbohydrates

Also called “simple sugars”, “sugars” or “saccharides”, these carbohydrates contain between one and 10 sugar molecules and are found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Those containing one or two sugar molecules are called monosaccharides and disaccharides, respectively, while those containing up to 10 sugar molecules are called oligosaccharides.

Lactose, the main sugar in animal milk, is a disaccharide made up of the monosaccharides glucose and galactose.

The oligosaccharides, however, are of medium length prebiotic carbohydrates found in foods high in fiber and human milk.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are made up of polysaccharides, which are longer and more complex chains of sugar molecules. Complex carbohydrates include both starches and dietary fiber.

Starches are the storage carbohydrates in peas and beans, grains and vegetables, and they provide energy to the body.

Alimentary fiber, or roughage, is the indigestible part of plants – in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes like peas and beans – that supports good intestinal health.

Carbohydrates often get a bad rap because of the association their excessive consumption with weight gain, obesity, metabolic syndrome and Diabetes.

This phenomenon, which some researchers call “carbotoxicityPromotes the idea that excessive consumption of all types of carbohydrates promotes the development of chronic diseases.

For this reason, many low in carbohydrates Diets have become popular among people interested in losing weight or managing their blood sugar. They are even in favor among the seasoned athletes.

However, several other studies have shown that the quality of carbohydrates that people eat is as important as the amount.

This finding suggests that instead of all carbohydrates being “created equal,” some options are better for your health than others.

“Unhealthy” carbohydrates

Carbohydrates that people may consider unhealthy because they are less nutritious include:

  • refined carbohydrates, such as polished rice and flour
  • sugary drinks, such as sodas and fruit juices
  • highly processed snacks, including cookies and pastries

According to existing research, a diet with a higher intake of these types of carbohydrates and fewer more nutritious options can increase markers of inflammation and perpetuate hormonal imbalances in people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Excessive consumption of simple added sugars is also linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance, non-alcohol related fatty liver disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

However, studies distinguish that added sugars and simple sugars found naturally in foods may not have the same negative effects.

A 2018 study even suggests that natural sources sugar, such as honey, may be effective in lowering blood sugar levels and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

New research continues to shed light on the detrimental health effects of these so-called unhealthy carbohydrate foods.

Experts recommend a balanced diet that consists mostly of nutritious foods and only includes these types of carbohydrates in moderation.

“Healthy” carbohydrates

More nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrate that people generally consider to be healthy include:

  • fruits, such as bananas, apples and berries
  • non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, and tomatoes
  • whole grains, such as whole grain flour, brown rice, and quinoa
  • peas and beans, such as black beans, lentil peas, or chickpeas
  • dairy and dairy products, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese

Research has linked diets high in these complex carbohydrates, such as mediterranean diet – with anti-inflammatory benefits, reduced insulin resistance and reduced risk of chronic disease.

Researchers attribute many of these benefits to the dietary fiber content of complex carbohydrates.

For example, dietary fiber from whole fruits improved long-term weight management and supports regular bowel movements and healthy aging.

In addition, improve the quality of the diet by including more complex carbohydrates and dietary fibers can lead to improvements in some of the effects of PCOS, such as insulin resistance and elevated androgens.

A 2020 review have found that the dietary fiber in whole grain foods confers several health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, intestinal disorders, cancer and diabetes.

The glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) are two metrics people have used to determine the quality of high carbohydrate foods and classify them as “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

The GI is a measure of the potential for increased blood sugar of a single food containing carbohydrates compared to pure glucose.

Low GI foods, which are mostly complex carbohydrates, have minimal effects on blood sugar. They include whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. High GI foods include potatoes and foods with added sugars.

Likewise, people use GL to gauge how likely a particular meal is to raise blood sugar.

Although people have used both GI and GL for decades to guide meal planning and manage blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, the science is inconclusive.

Numerous studies suggest that a increase in consumption low GI foods improve health outcomes, but other studies show that differences in daily glucose tolerance and individual responses are responsible for blood sugar levels rather than the GI of the food itself.

The GI of a food may therefore not be a direct predictor of an individual’s glycemic response.

Differences in glycemic response between individuals make it difficult to determine which carbohydrates are truly the healthiest, since even whole grains may not be a consistent and reliable measurement of GI and GL.

Despite the popularity of low carbohydrate diets, they are not suitable for everyone, and some populations still benefit from a diet rich in carbohydrates.

For example, endurance athletic performance becomes compromised on a low-carbohydrate diet, and a high carbohydrate intake remains the most supported by evidence choice for elite athletes.

Among members of the general population with a high carbohydrate intake, significant reductions in blood sugar levels – potentially promoting remission of prediabetes – occur when daily carbohydrate intake is reduced.

Therefore, for populations that consume 65-75% of their daily calories as carbohydrates, experts recommend reduce carbohydrate calories to 50-55% of daily intake and increase protein.

A carbohydrate restriction of 45% or less of daily calories is more efficient for short-term blood sugar control, but it can be unsustainable and does not provide better long-term results than a range of 50-55% of daily calories from carbohydrates.

Before making any changes to their diet, people should consult a doctor or dietitian to determine their specific carbohydrate needs in order to optimize their health.

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, providing the body with energy and dietary fiber to support good health.

Excessive carbohydrate consumption is associated with weight gain and an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Despite their bad reputation, carbohydrates provide many health benefits when a person frequently consumes sources of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber in favor of refined carbohydrates and sugary drinks.

In addition, the ideal diet varies among individuals. For example, a diet rich in carbohydrates optimizes athletic performance.

However, non-athletic populations who consume 65-75% of their daily calories from carbohydrates see their blood sugar levels decrease most sharply when they reduce their calorie intake from carbohydrates to 50-55% of their intake. daily energy.

Carbohydrates aren’t bad when people manage the amount and types they eat and tailor them to their specific needs.


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