The human diet is one of the most discussed and debated topics nowadays. In an attempt to correct their eating habits, people attempt to eliminate or add certain foods and drinks based on their nutritional value and chemical structure. Carbohydrates are probably the most known component of the diet, which raises much controversy. Ranging from total rejection to acceptance, diverse opinions on carbohydrates exist and contradict each other. No single viewpoint is universally accepted, which forces people to research the topic on their own. Understanding what constitutes carbohydrates is essential in ascertaining their harm and benefit to human health.
The Essence of Carbohydrates
First, it is important to remember that carbohydrates are an essential component of many foods. Carbohydrates refer to the nutritional category for sugars (Hinde, 2019). They can be simple or complex, depending on their chemical structure. Simple sugars are known as monosaccharides, which can take the form of glucose, fructose, and galactose. When two monosaccharides are linked together, a disaccharide is produced. The most common manifestations of disaccharides are sucrose, lactose, and maltose. When three to ten sugars are linked, oligosaccharides are produced, while polysaccharides involve more than ten linked sugars. All of these carbohydrates constitute a source of energy.
Benefits of Carbohydrates
When deciding whether carbohydrates should be avoided, it is essential to know that they are vital for the healthy functioning of the body. For instance, glucose supplies the brain, the muscles, and the central nervous system with the necessary energy (Dienel, 2019). The deficit of carbohydrates will lead to the feeling of tiredness, lack of concentration, reflex impairment, and other negative repercussions. Moreover, many carbohydrates carry useful vitamins and minerals, which sustain the body and its organs. Therefore, not only is avoiding carbohydrates entirely unreasonable, but it can also lead to a number of health issues.
Digestion of Sugars
The issue with these sugars is that not all of them are equally digested. The more complex carbohydrates are, the longer it takes for the body to process them. The reason for their complexity is the manner of how the carbohydrates are connected. Simple sugars have alpha linkages, which are easily cleaved by the human digestive system. Simple sugars are found in bread, jam, candies, and other products that have a sweet taste. These sugars are easily digested and quickly elevate blood sugar levels. At the same time, complex sugars have dietary fibers. Their beta linkages protect them from being digested, which results in the slower rise of blood sugar. Complex sugars are found in vegetables, fruits, and grains.
As it has been mentioned, simple sugars are easily digested. Once sugar appears in the bloodstream, it is transferred to the tissue. When it happens, people feel a surge of energy. However, it is short-lived and requires the addition of more sugar to generate more energy. At this point, many people fall into the trap of sweet products. It would not have been problematic to constantly consume simple sugars if the body had not reacted to its excess. A high level of blood sugar is dangerous to the organism because the blood supply to vital organs may become obstructed.
The body has a natural resistance mechanism to high blood sugar – insulin. It is a hormone, which plays a critical role in sugar management. Anytime blood sugar rises, insulin is secreted into the blood. Insulin converges sugar to energy, thus decreasing blood sugar (Barazzoni et al., 2017). However, the more carbohydrates are consumed on a daily basis, the less insulin is able to convert them into energy. As a result, the blood sugar stays elevated, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart diseases, and metabolic syndrome.
Measurement of Harm
Yet, not all sugar increases the blood sugar level so much. An important indicator of how certain sugars influence the body is the glycemic index. It categorizes all products containing sugar into three groups – foods with high, moderate, and low glycemic indexes (Dansinger, 2021). The highest value is 100, while the lowest is 0. Foods with low index include vegetables, fruits, nuts, pasta, and other ones that have been minimally processed. The moderate glycemic index incorporates such products as cereal, white rice, corn, and sweet potatoes. High index refers to the foods, which have undergone most processing, like white bread, crackers, doughnuts, and croissants. The general recommendation for the choice of menu is substituting simple sugars (high glycemic index) with complex sugars (low glycemic index).
Altogether, it should be evident that carbohydrates are not negative themselves. As with any other food, excess and deficit and detrimental. Without carbohydrates, the body is not able to function properly, while too much of them increases the risk of health diseases and diabetes. Understanding which products are essential requires getting acquainted with the glycemic index, which showcases how quickly sugar is digested. Overall, simple sugars should be limited in the diet, while products with fibers should be preferred in their place.
Barazzoni, R., Deutz, N. E. P., Biolo, G., Bischoff, S., Boirie, Y., Cederholm, T., & Calder, P. C. (2017). Carbohydrates and insulin resistance in clinical nutrition: Recommendations from the ESPEN expert group. Clinical Nutrition, 36(2), 355-363. Web.
Dansinger, M. (2021). How to use the glycemic index. WebMD. Web.
Dienel, G. A. (2019). Brain glucose metabolism: Integration of energetics with function. Physiological Reviews, 99(1), 949-1045. Web.
Ferretti, F., & Mariani, M. (2017). Simple vs. complex carbohydrate dietary patterns and the global overweight and obesity pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(10), 1174-1186. Web.
Hinde, S. (2019). Understanding the role of carbohydrates in optimal nutrition. Nursing Standard, 34(8), 76-82. Web.