Monday, January 23, 2012

Carbohydrates - Effects on the Body

An unfortunate combination of fad diets and tremendous marketing has led us to believe that carbohydrates are "bad”. There are even claims of it being the source of the obesity epidemic. This interpretation is an oversimplification just like saying that all "fat is bad." (And we know that is not correct, right?)

The classification of carbohydrates is not as simple as breaking them down into two groups: simple or complex. First, our bodies’ digestive system handles all carbohydrates in the same way. Our body breaks down the digestible carbs into sugar. Sugars in the bloodstream cause a release of insulin (a hormone). Insulin in itself is a double edge sword. It creates energy but it also causes fat to be stored.

Interestingly, fiber is a carbohydrate but it is not digestible. Therefore, fiber cannot be broken down into sugars. It does not nourish the body. However, it has a role in our general health and wellbeing. Forms of fiber bind to fatty substances in the intestines and carry them out which helps lower the LDL or “bad cholesterol.”

The glycemic index was created to classify how high and how quickly a food spikes your blood sugars. However, the index has some weaknesses. Preliminary scientific research claimed that high glycemic foods were linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even some cancers. Recently, other studies state that the glycemic index has little effect on weight or health. One flaw of the glycemic index is that it does not distinguish the digestible carbs from the indigestible ones. The implications of this are the negative impact is overstated. Similarly, portion sizes are not taken into account. Consider this example: the glycemic index has watermelon listed as high (80) and a Snicker’s Bar (41) as much lower. Now does that seem right to you?

Lately the “glycemic load” index was introduced as another formula to try to rectify the glycemic index flaws.

Now we are all scratching our heads... first we thought it was simple versus complex...then we thought it was glycemic index…so what is the answer?

Carbohydrate management can be as simple as breaking down what we eat and when. The “when” is as important as the “what."

There are two optimal windows of opportunity for carbohydrate consumption. The first window is in the morning. This is when the body has been fasting due to a night of sleep (no food intake). The second more effective and important window is when you stress your muscles. Stressing/activating muscle cells triggers the use of blood sugar (glycogen). To control blood sugars, lose fat and gain muscle, the best time to eat carbohydrates would be after a hard-core training session.

In order to choose the best sources of carbohydrates, the first rule is to limit and avoid simple sugars. These carbs will instantly spike blood sugars and thus the release of insulin and storage for fat. Read labels for sugar content. Some are obvious like pastries, sugared sodas, candies and highly processed foods. Instead, choose whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and foods that are less processed (less the better).

We will cover more on carbohydrate choices and timing in following postings. This is an introduction to get you started thinking and making healthy choices.

Stay tuned……..

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