A Guide To Carbohydrates
When it comes to the consumption of carbs and the thousands of “myths” that are floating around, I’m finding more and more that as a society, we have an altered perception of such a crucial macronutrient. When I say altered, I actually mean not even in the ballpark.
In fact, more people than not seem to be avoiding carbs completely. Fortunately, if you’re reading this article, it would suggest you’re not one of those who abstain from including them in your diet. After all, they’re our body’s main source of energy. But the confusion seems to lie around the differences between types of carbohydrates.
To be clear: we’re talking White Carbs vs Brown Carbs. Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs
High Glycemic Index Carbs vs Low Glycemic Index Carbs.
Here’s the kicker- white carbs, simple carbs and high GI (glycemic index) carbs are all the same thing. Just as brown carbs, complex carbs and low GI carbs are the same thing.
Different terminology but describing the same concept.
Let’s get a bit deeper..
What’s the Difference?
The difference is determined by the rate at which a carbohydrate is formed into glucose and enters the body through the bloodstream. White carbs, simple carbs and high GI carbs will enter the system faster than brown carbs, complex carbs and low GI carbs.
What does Glycemic Index mean?
We're talking the measurement
of time at which certain carbohydrates actually enters the bloodstream.
It was implemented initially for those with diabetes so that they had a resource guide to help stabilize their sugar levels. However, athletes and bodybuilders use the tool now to help sustain energy levels and assist in recovery. So, GI is first determined & tested by the consumption of different carb sources to clients or athletes in 50g portions.
The blood sugar is then monitored over the next 3 hours creating a curve on the graph.
The more glucose that reaches the bloodstream in the initial 3 hours, the higher the GI for that carb source. Hence the low GI and high GI groupings. Check some out below.
Low GI Carbohydrates
Here’s a list of some of the preferred sources of carbohydrates that are labeled under the low GI. These are recommended for sustained energy levels as they have slower absorptions and lowered insulin responses:
Some fruits e.g. plums, peaches, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, grapefruits
Dairy (skim milk, whole milk, yogurt)
High GI Carbohydrates
Breads, especially white.
Instant Products (oatmeal, instant cereal)
Carrots, corn, peas
Melon & pineapple
Now that we have an ample amount of examples of high and low GI foods, let’s knock out a few “myths” surrounding this.
#1- Low GI foods are assimilated at a slower rate, thus supplying the body with a steadier supply of energy.These carbs alleviate hunger and control appetite.
#2- They can also prevent mood swings.
#3- High-GI carbs digest quickly, raise energy briefly, before making it slump back down again, and make it easier to store body fat.
According to this – dieting with low GI is certainly an optimal nutritional approach, especially if opting for these carb source pre-training. This is because they prevent any premature lowering of blood glucose levels, which can lead to an early onset of fatigue. However, stick with me and we’ll talk debunking those “myths”.
Factors Affecting the GI of Food
I understand how looking at our list of high & low GI foods can easily determine the carb source we need by where it falls on the glycemic index, but, there are some factors we need to take into consideration first:
GI can rise due to processing of certain foods. Our friend, the rice cake, as an example is a source that has been processed so much it almost has a GI as high as glucose!
GI can be affected in the way foods are cooked and prepared. Overcooking of certain carbs breaks up the starches and raises the GI. Baked potatoes, as an example, have a higher GI than potatoes that have been boiled.
#3 Food Combinations:
Combining carb sources with other foods can slow down the gastric emptying of the stomach and therefore the absorption of foods. This lowers the GI of the carb source.
Protein: add protein with a carb source and this will lower the GI as it will be required to be liquefied before it is released for absorption.
Fibre: Fibre is very complex and takes a long time to break down. Combine carbs and fibre and you will be certain to slow down digestion, thus absorption and therefore lower the GI.
Fats: Fats have a slow gastric emptying and slows absorption of food. Ice cream is counted as a low GI carb source, due to its high level of milk, fat and little protein
Carbs: You can combine high GI carbs with low GI carbs, e.g. mashed potatoes with broccoli, and the total meal would be lower in GI than if you just ate the potatoes.
Finally- let’s wrap this up!
We rarely eat carbs on their own – I mean, who eats JUST a plate of pasta, or a bowl of plain white rice? (who’s sane of course:) Therefor, all of the foods you eat along with your carbs affect the GI so much that it just simply isn’t worth worrying about sometimes.
Using the GI as a guide can be a useful resource for your nutrition. However, in the grand scheme of things, you can see many factors actually affect the glycemic index. Nutritionally it makes sense to get most of your carbs from brown carbs & other low-GI sources, as these will be higher in vitamins and minerals and also contain more fiber!
The point is, learning what our bodies react positive and negative to will only support your lifestyle change. Awareness is key. Preparation & a bit of good information will truly take your gains to the next level, I promise!
Care to be human?