Whether we are dieting or just eating for comfort, many of us have a love affair with carbohydrates. This explains the extensive searches and results for healthy carbohydrate options and the difficulty of sticking with a low- or no-carb diet. Not all carbs are created equal, however, and there are many differences between simple and complex carbohydrates.
What are Simple Carbohydrates?
The body digests and absorbs simple carbohydrates faster than complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs contain just one or two sugars, which many include fructose (fruits,) galactose (milk products,) sucrose (table sugar,) lactose (dairy products,) and maltose (beer and some vegetables.) Candy, soda, syrups, cookies, pastries, and pasta are examples of simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates come from white flour or refined sugar. These foods have little to no nutritional value and tend to cause spikes in blood sugar, leading to blood sugar highs and subsequent crashes. Simple carbohydrates should be enjoyed in moderation.
Complex carbohydrates contain three or more sugars; starchy foods generally fall into this category. Complex carbs are digested and absorbed more slowly. Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, potatoes, corn, parsnips, cereals, and whole-grain bread are complex carbohydrates. Including these carbs in your diet will help you feel full more quickly, stay full longer, and experience sustained energy without the blood sugar spikes and crashes. However, even with these benefits, complex carbohydrates can still result in a high-calorie meal. Mashed potatoes with butter, sour cream, and cheese are full of calories and fat. The same goes for peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread if you add a thick layer of jelly.
What are Bad Carbohydrates?
Low-carb or no-carb diets can often confuse people. From a nutritional standpoint, you might be surprised which foods fall under bad carbohydrates. While potatoes are complex carbohydrates, deep frying them or adding fatty toppings can make them full of calories and fat. Bad carbohydrates are those that are high in calories and low in fiber, with little to no nutritional value. They also metabolize quickly which causes blood sugar spikes and crashes. Pasta often falls into this category when it is made with highly refined grains such as white flour. Bad carbohydrates are also likely to be high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and trans fats.
A natural complex carbohydrate is usually a good carb. Whole grain foods, vegetables, beans, and legumes are lower in calories and in nutrients. Complex carbohydrates do not contain refined sugars [and are higher in fiber. Good carbs are low in sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats. Pasta made from vegetables or whole wheat flour is considered good carbs. A diet containing good carbohydrates is perfect for everyone but especially for people with heart conditions, diabetes, and obesity.
The glycemic index of food helps people determine how quickly and how much their standard blood sugar level will rise after consuming certain foods. Some people use this index to create eating plans that will help them maintain optimal blood sugar levels. High glycemic foods such as pastries, sugary snacks, and even potatoes and watermelon, raise blood sugar rapidly and have been linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers. High-glycemic carbohydrates usually contain simple carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates Benefit Mental Health
Doctors who recommend their patients lose weight by following a low-carb or no-carb diet often fail to mention that patients could be sacrificing their mental health by sacrificing carbohydrates. Medical studies show individuals who are overweight and following a low-carb or a no-carb diet for a month or more are more likely to experience increased anxiety, depression, and anger than those who eat a low-fat, high-carb diet. Carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin in the brain. Following a diet high in complex carbohydrates will help you maintain weight while maximizing your mental health.
Carbohydrates are Good for Memory
Studies show cutting carbs from your diet for one week can have adverse effects on your cognitive skills, visual attention, and spatial memory. However, not all carbohydrates have a good effect on memory. You are much more likely to see a positive difference if your diet includes things like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. Adding potato chips or cookies is unlikely to affect memory, or could have adverse effects when the sugar crash begins.
Carbohydrates Can Support Weight Loss
Choosing the right carbohydrates can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables contain fiber. Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet, as it will help you feel full quicker and stay full longer. Minimizing simple carbohydrates is important when trying to lose weight.
Your body needs carbohydrates for proper functioning. The body cannot produce macronutrients on its own, so it must absorb them from foods. Without carbohydrates, the body could not produce enough energy to function. Hypoglycemia develops and people begin to experience dizziness and mental or physical weakness. In other words, without the glucose from carbohydrates, the central nervous system cannot function properly. The body begins consuming protein for energy, which leads to muscular and digestive issues and constipation. Prolonged lack of glucose also strains the kidneys and brain.
Seek Dietary Advice from Medical Professionals
Many fad diets suggest carbohydrates are the root of all evil when it comes to losing weight, but carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet and a well-functioning body. If you are considering a diet that is low in carbohydrates, seek the advice of a medical professional first to make sure your chosen eating plan will not do more harm than good.