Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. As they are digested and released into the bloodstream as glucose, they signal cells in the pancreas to produce insulin. In turn, insulin escorts glucose into the cells, where it is metabolized into energy.
Since they are your body’s basic source of energy, healthy carbohydrates should be a mainstay of your diet. But all carbohydrates are not created equal. For optimal well-being, you need to fuel your body with healthy carbohydrates.
How can you tell the difference between unhealthy carbohydrates and healthy carbohydrates?
Unhealthy vs. Healthy Carbohydrates
According to conventional wisdom, carbohydrates are lumped into two main categories: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are so named because they contain only one or two simple sugars—such as sucrose or fructose. Starchy carbohydrates, which are made up of long chains of sugars, are considered complex.
The old school of thought figures simple carbs are bad and should be eaten in limited quantities. Meanwhile, complex carbs are given carte blanche since, in theory, they have less of an impact on blood sugar levels.
As it turns out, it’s much more complicated than this. We now know that the effect carbohydrates have on blood sugar goes far beyond the old simple-complex model.
Starchy complex carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice rapidly drive up blood sugar levels like ”simple“ carbs, while the effects of ”complex“ grains are dependent on factors such as particle size. For example, whole oats behave quite differently than instant oatmeal.
This is why the preferred method of carbohydrate evaluation is now based on determining a food’s glycemic value. Using this method, healthy carbohydrates are those that have low-glycemic values.
The Benefits of Low-Glycemic Carbohydrates
Healthy carbohydrates with a low-glycemic value are broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream slowly. That means your insulin level won’t fluctuate as noticeably, and you’ll reap the benefits—namely reduced appetite and sustained energy.
Fueling your body with low-glycemic healthy carbohydrates also lowers risk of insulin resistance and its related conditions.
In general, legumes, vegetables and most fruits have low-glycemic values.
The Dangers of High-Glycemic Carbohydrates
On the other hand, excess consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates can stress your body’s blood sugar-control mechanisms over the long term and contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes and weight gain.
Starchy foods such as bread, cold cereals, potatoes and pasta are examples of carbs with high-glycemic values. Limit servings of these high-glycemic carbohydrates to no more than one or two a week or, better yet, eliminate them altogether.
Processed foods, such as white flour, that have been stripped of their fiber also have high-glycemic values and behave much like sugar, rapidly elevating blood glucose levels.
The bottom line is, for optimal health, you need to cut out high-glycemic foods and emphasize healthy carbohydrates instead.
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