Carbs. No carbs. Low carbs. Some carbs. Carbs in the morning. Carbs only on weekends.
We are in a carbohydrate obsessed society right now! It's like "Hi, nice to meet you! What is your name? How old are your kids? Do you eat carbs or no?"
We are obsessed with this macronutrient, but do we even know what a carbohydrate actually is? They are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates are important to a healthy life. A macronutrient is one of the three main ways the body obtains energy.
It does, however, depend on the type and the amount.
Which leads us to the glycemic index (or GI) which is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested, absorbed and metabolized. Low GI carbohydrates – the ones that produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels – is one of the secrets to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.
Carbs with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and therefore insulin levels. Some examples are beans, fruit, milk, pasta, grainy bread, porridge and lentils.
Cooking and processing can also affect the GI – food that is broken down into fine or smaller particles will be more easily absorbed and so has a higher GI. Foods that have been cooked and allowed to cool (potatoes, for example) can have a lower GI when eaten cold than when hot. Crazy, right?
The glycemic load (GL) is a concept that builds on GI, as it takes into account both the GI of the food and the amount of carbohydrate in a portion. GL is based on the idea that a high GI food consumed in small quantities would give the same effect on blood glucose levels as larger quantities of a low GI food. GL is easily calculated by multiplying the GI by the amount of carbohydrates (in grams) in a serving of food.
Kris Carr eloquently explains, "Carbohydrates come in two varieties, complex (“good” or “unrefined”) and simple (“bad” or “refined”). Complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, and veggies are good for two reasons: First, they take longer to digest, therefore your blood sugar doesn’t spike. This means your energy levels stay on a more even keel—no sugar highs and no crashes. No frantic search for guns, no scraping your torn self (in fishnets) off the concrete. Second, complex carbs come with a lot of other good stuff, like vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein, and fiber. They fill you up and leave you satisfied.
With the exception of fresh fruit, simple carbs are all the junky foods you already know are bad for you: white sugar, white flour, white bread, some whole wheat breads, cookies, sugary snack foods, candy, cake, muffins, crackers, chips, white pretzels, energy drinks, sodas and sweetened soft drinks, concentrated fruit juices, and all the other empty calorie fillers that today make up at least a third of the SAD."
Check out our forum for a great list of foods and their GI!
Sources and Additional Reading:
Carr, Kris. "Crazy Sexy Diet", 2011.
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2012.