We live in a time where most individuals either believe that carbohydrates are good or bad. For many people, there is no mixing of the two opinions. Why does our body, in fact, need carbohydrates and which ones are the best?
There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. The group of simple carbohydrates mainly consist of fructose (which comes from the sugar of fruits), sucrose (everyday table sugar), and lactose (sugar found in milk and milk products), plus several other types of less common simple sugars.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are also composed of sugars, but these sugars are linked together in long, complex chains, thus making them harder to break down and slowing down the process of their digestion. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods containing fiber and starch such as whole grains, beans (legumes), peas and vegetables.
After ingesting either type of carbohydrate, the body’s digestive and enzymatic systems go to work breaking down the sugar molecules into the basic molecule of glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy for all of the cells of the body and is the only fuel source for red blood cells and the brain.
Therefore, the body must have a source of glucose in order to function. In some extreme cases, if carbohydrates are eliminated or are lacking from the diet entirely, the body will attempt to compensate by breaking down fat first and finally, muscle to use as an alternate, but less efficient, energy source.
For some people, this is desirable, as they wish to burn and get rid of excess fat. For short periods of time the body can run relatively well on the energy released from the breakdown of body fat in place of carbohydrates and glucose. However, if this persists for any length of time, a build-up of ketones, which are by products of fat metabolism, are found in the blood resulting in a condition known as ketosis. Ketosis is not a good condition to be in, as it makes the body extremely acidic and in some cases may lead to coma or death.
Therefore, the body does need a source of carbohydrates to function optimally. However, there are choices that can be made as to the type of carbohydrates that are consumed. Complex carbohydrates are the best choices as they have a slow rate of digestion and bring large quantities of fiber into the body.
When choosing carbohydrates to add to meals, stay away from the simple, refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta products made of white flour, pastries with high sugar content, candy, and all types of soda. Not only will eliminating these simple sugars from the diet help to stabilize the body’s chemistry, but weight loss has also been associated with their removal.
Instead of these simple carbohydrates, try other, more nutritious simple carbohydrates such as fruits (not fruit juices, but the actual whole fruit itself), and complex carbohydrates which include all whole grains (whole wheat, barley, oatmeal, and brown rice to name a few), legumes and nuts. Additionally, add plenty of fibrous vegetables to the diet to improve the function of the elimination system as well as help to keep the body balanced and healthy.