Carbohydrates come essentially from plants; in other words, they are foods that are grown. They can also be classified as foods that ''have not been born." For example, pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables and breads are all carbohydrates, and none of them has a mother. Plants capture the energy in sunlight and use it to produce glucose. When we eat plants, we are eating valuable sources of glucose, which our bodies can then break down and use as energy.
Carbohydrates can be classified into 2 groups: simple and complex. This is based on the number of sugar molecules in the chemical structure of the carbohydrate. Mono and disaccharides are simple sugars while starches and polysaccharides are complex. It was previously thought that the more complex a sugar the slower its metabolism leading to better glucose control. This has been proven to be untrue and now the glycemic index is used to predict the rate of carbohydrate breakdown.
The glycemic index helps you compare the quality of carbohydrates in different foods. Dr. David Jenkins created the glycemic index (GI) to learn which foods are best for people with diabetes. Instead of categorizing carbohydrates as simple or complex, the GI ranks foods using a scale ranging from 0 to 100. 100 is the value assigned to the absorption of an equivalent amount of pure glucose. Foods that quickly raise the blood glucose levels receive a higher glycemic index number than foods that raise blood glucose levels more slowly.
Low GI foods have values of 55 or less. They include pumpernickel, stone ground whole wheat, rolled or steel cut oatmeal, bran, mueslix, sweet potatoes, legumes, lentils, most fruits and others. Medium GI foods have values of 56-79 and include whole wheat, rye, pita bread, quick oats, wild or basmati rice, couscous and others. High glycemic foods have an index above 70 and include white breads, most cold cereals, instant oatmeal, rice, pasta, short grain rice, melons, pineapple, saltines and others. The refined foods tend to have a higher glycemic index while those food that have minimal refinement will have a lower GI. An example is steel cut oatmeal versus quick oats versus instant oatmeal.
Your body responds to blood glucose spikes by producing more insulin, a hormone that causes your body to stop burning fat and start burning carbohydrates. It also sends out hunger signals and tells your body to store more fat. When you consume lower-GI foods, it helps you to avoid blood glucose spikes, as well as manage your weight and overall health.
Understanding carbohydrates and their effects on your glucose level is important in making good choices. If you are prone to diabetes, have diabetes, are trying to lose weight or just want to maintain good health then it is a good practice to always select foods with a lower glycemic index. In this postindustrial age, refined foods have become cheaper and more available thus contributing to the obesity epidemic and increasing the risks of diabetes and heart disease. Food should be consumed wisely and not abused. Remember the goal of good nutrition is to maintain a healthy body so you can function at the highest level possible.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!
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