Lessons from the Low-Carb Diet Craze
What's a Carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates supply your body with its main source of fuel: glucose. In other words, your body gets the energy it needs to get through the day from carbohydrates in the food and beverages you consume. Carbs can be stored in muscles to make us "activity-ready," and they're often packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They come in two forms: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbs, which are made up of two sugar molecules, give your body a kick in the pants as they're digested. But, it's short-lived -- foods and beverages consisting of primarily simple carbohydrates won't make you feel satisfied for long, only 30 to 60 minutes actually...another good reason to forgo the candy bar.
Examples of simple carbohydrates from natural sources are fruit sugars (fructose) in fruits and milk sugars (lactose) in milk products. Other forms of sugar too numerous to count also fall into the "simple carb" category; these often are added to foods and beverages. They include sweeteners such as corn syrup, honey, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrate, among others.
Complex carbohydrates, as their name implies, are more complex. They are long chains of sugar molecules linked together and they're also known as starches. They're broken down by the body during the digestive process to release the glucose stored in them. Complex carbs release glucose slowly as they're digested, providing your body with fuel for several hours, instead of the quick fix provided by simple carbs.
Pastas, whole grains, rice, and beans (soy beans, black beans, and lima beans are particularly healthful), are examples of foods containing complex carbohydrates. Most complex carbs provide a host of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, particularly when they're from products made from "whole grain" -- a term that means the grain still contains all parts of the kernel after processing. "Processed," or refined grains, on the other hand, strip or remove part of this healthful food as well as the nutrients it provides. "Refined" sugars are the same: they're sugars that have been processed from their natural form.
"Obviously, not all carbohydrates are unhealthy, but we as a society eat too many of the unhealthy carbs found in processed foods and not enough of the complex carbs from whole grain products," says O'Shea.