“Don’t eat carbs!” That’s what we are told. But why the hype?
It’s the carbs you are eating. There are three basic forms of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. When you eat or drink something with carbs, your body breaks down the sugars and starches into a type of sugar called glucose, which is the main source of energy for cells in your body (fiber passes through your body undigested).
How does your body use this fuel for energy?
In the most simplistic terms:
- When you ingest carbs – the hormone insulin is released and moves glucose from your blood into your cells to use for energy.
- If your body takes in too much glucose and releases an abundance of insulin, your body can’t use all of the fuel – and it become stored as fat.
But let’s take this one step further. The carbs you are eating make a difference.
Every carb has something called a GI (glycemic index)
A food’s GI affects how quickly your body digests it and how quickly glucose enters your bloodstream. The source of the carbohydrate is especially important – foods that contain more processed carbohydrates have a greater effect on blood sugar levels than whole foods. Foods made with intact whole grains typically have a lower index. Foods high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, lower the GI index. Fiber slows down the digestion of food and therefore, the release of sugars into the bloodstream. Fiber (and fat) lower the GI of a food.
Examples of foods with low, middle and high GI values include the following:
- Low GI: Green vegetables, most fruits, raw carrots, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and bran breakfast cereals
- Medium GI: Sweet corn, bananas, raw pineapple, raisins, oat breakfast cereals, and multigrain, oat bran or rye bread
- High: White rice, white bread, potatoes, pretzels, popcorn
Here’s a simple guide on the GI for popular foods: http://www.the-gi-diet.org/lowgifoods/
So what do I do with this information?
It’s important to understand how your body uses the fuel from the food you ingest.
The first source of fuel your body uses is carbs (glucose/sugar), then fat, then protein. So if you are taking in an abundance of processed carbs that your body can’t burn, the extra glucose is converted to fat – so you are never using your stored fat for energy, but only building more.
A food’s ranking on the glycemic index doesn’t necessarily indicate whether it’s a good or bad choice. It’s just an additional guide (it is much more complex than what is presented in this blog). It goes back to what we already know: as a general rule: whole, unprocessed foods are the superior choice.
Another added bonus – the more active you are and the more muscle you build, the less you need to worry about how foods affect your blood sugar. Exercise uses the glucose stored in your muscles. Your body takes glucose out of the bloodstream to your muscles where it’s packed away for future use. This helps reduce blood-glucose levels quickly. More muscle gives you a larger storage area for glucose.