One of the main principles of a healthy diet is the presence of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in it.
And it is the latter that should make up the bulk of the diet. In addition to the most important function—energy—these nutrients perform many others.
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What are carbohydrates, and why do we need them?
First of all, carbohydrates are substances that are not essential. The body is able to synthesize glucose on its own.
But this does not mean that these nutrients should be excluded from the diet; in this case, the amount of available glucose is reduced, resulting in poor health.
This happens for several reasons:
- Under heavy loads, glucose is a source of energy for the cells of the nervous system, hematopoietic tissue, and muscle cells.
- Glucose breakdown products take part in the breakdown of fats; therefore, in the absence of glucose, the breakdown of fats is inactive;
- Fiber (complex carbohydrates) is necessary for the quality of the colon.
Functions of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates perform several important functions at once.
Energy. At rest, the body receives about half of the daily amount of energy from carbohydrates, and at a high level of exercise, they become the main source of glucose for muscles.
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Reserve. Glucose is able to accumulate in skeletal muscle and the liver and be broken down as needed.
Protective. Carbohydrates are part of the mucus that coats the inside of the digestive, respiratory, and other tracts, protecting them from damage.
Regulatory. In addition to proteins, carbohydrates are included in the composition of enzymes and cell receptors.
Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are substances that are divided into simple and complex ones. The former serves as a source of fast energy. These include glucose and sucrose.
This is caused by a sharp rise in blood glucose levels, which soon leads to a feeling of hunger: such carbohydrates are not able to saturate.
Complex nutrients formed from glucose residues connected in a branched chain, on the contrary, are slowly absorbed and saturate well.
Particular attention should be paid to vegetable fiber. It is essential for health for several reasons:
- provides the onset of satiety and maintains it for a long time. This is due to an increase in the food bolus;
- prevents constipation, which is especially important for people who spend a lot of time in a sitting position;
- absorbs toxic substances;
- nourishes the beneficial intestinal microflora.
The norm for fiber intake is 25–35 g per day, which is equal to about five servings of fresh vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, many do not use even half.
The best sources of fiber are:
- fresh vegetables, fruits, and berries;
- Rye bread;
For people who are not accustomed to such a diet, it is important to start with small portions of vegetables and fruits: this will help to avoid pain, bloating, and gas.
What are the best carbohydrate sources to choose from?
Of course, most of the diet should be complex carbohydrates.
- durum pasta;
- beans, lentils;
- whole grain and rye bread, homemade crackers;
- products made from whole wheat or oat flour;
The total nutrient requirement depends on several parameters, such as gender and level of physical activity. But all adults are advised to eat several servings of complex carbohydrates per day.
Simple carbohydrates: to eat or not to eat
There is no need to give up simple carbohydrates.
Subject to the calorie content of the diet, its usefulness, and the presence of physical activity, you can sometimes easily eat your favourite dessert and not worry about your figure.
The Glycemic Index of foods
An indicator such as the glycemic index (GI) reflects how quickly carbohydrates from a particular product are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and raise blood glucose levels.
The mechanism is simple: the higher the GI, the faster these two processes occur.
High-GI foods include pastries, potatoes, sugary sodas, and instant cereals. Brown rice, pasta, lentils, bran, cabbage, and greens have a low GI.
But many people who want to lose weight make the mistake of choosing products from the second group.
The fact is that a healthy person who does not have problems with blood glucose levels does not need to monitor the GI.
- First, diets based on low-GI food choices do not seem to offer much weight-loss benefit.
- Secondly, such nutrition leads to a decrease in nutrition, because a large number of products are excluded.
Try to plan your diet so that it not only contains carbohydrates but also has different sources of them; this will increase the nutritional value of your daily menu.
In addition to the formation of energy, carbohydrates perform a number of important functions: they are part of hormones, tissues, and cells, positively affect the functioning of the central nervous system, and they have a protective effect on the body.
Glucose is the most important simple carbohydrate. Once in the body, it quickly enters the blood and tissues, oxidizes, and releases energy.
A decrease in blood glucose leads to the activation of the processes that lead to its formation from more complex carbohydrates that accumulate in the liver.
A high level of glucose triggers a special regulation aimed at lowering it. This is mainly due to the production of insulin.
Fructose is a simple sugar. It enters the blood from the intestines at a slower rate and does not affect the increase in blood sugar as actively as sucrose. Fructose is useful for the nutrition of overweight people and diabetics.
Lactose is another simple carbohydrate, especially needed by newborns. As the body grows older, enzyme activity may decrease, and dyspeptic disorders and milk intolerance may appear. A good alternative to whole milk is fermented milk products.
Complex carbohydrates can be digestible in the gastrointestinal tract (starch, glycogen) and indigestible (cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin).
These nutrients are represented by polysaccharides. They can be considered prebiotics because they are not digested or absorbed by the upper gastrointestinal tract but are fermented by the colonic microflora and stimulate its growth.
Starch is the main polysaccharide, during the breakdown of which glucose gradually enters the bloodstream. Unlike simple sugars, it does not stimulate a spike in blood glucose. In order for starch to be better digested in the intestines, preliminary heat treatment is necessary.
Complex carbohydrates are the healthiest. These substances provide the body with fibre, glycogen, and insulin, which produce energy and normalize metabolism and the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.
They are found in whole-grain bread, white beans, durum wheat pasta, buckwheat, and rice.
Simple carbohydrates are rich in foods such as honey, sugar, confectionery, beets, white bread, bananas, grapes, chocolate, cornflakes, and carbonated drinks.
They are dangerous for the figure. The body, as a rule, does not have time to assimilate the energy generated by them, and it is deposited in the form of excess adipose tissue.
But this does not mean that simple carbohydrates should be completely excluded from the diet. Foods with their contents should be eaten in the morning to wake up the brain and activate its work.
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