Compare a white bread sandwich with a brown bread sandwich, instant noodles with whole grain pasta and vegetables, French fries to a salad, and white rice to brown rice. All the above are sources of carbohydrates, but the second options in all the comparisons are sources of 'good' carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates and their functions
Carbohydrates along with fats and proteins are major components of the diet. They add sweetness and flavour to the food. They are digested in the body to form glucose which provides energy for various body functions especially to the brain and the nervous system. Even when weight training (anaerobic exercise), muscles use carbohydrates as a source of energy. Fats are used as a source of energy only during cardio. Carbohydrates spare protein for body building functions, and are required for fat digestion and to prevent ketosis (a stage in fat metabolism which is stimulated primarily when the liver is low on stored glucose). Indigestible carbohydrates like fibre help in maintaining gastro-intestinal health.
Types of carbohydrates
There are 2 types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are those that are easily digested and increase blood sugar levels very quickly, whereas complex carbohydrates take a long time to digest and increase blood sugar levels slowly. Fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate that is not digested, yet is essential to maintain good gastro-intestinal health.
Good VS bad carbohydrates
Question: Are carbohydrates good or bad for health?
Answer: They are both good and bad.
Good carbohydrates are rich sources of fibre. They take a long time to digest and are absorbed slowly in the blood, which is why they don't cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Examples of good carbohydrates include unprocessed grains such as wheat, jowar, bajra, brown rice, whole-grain legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and pasta, etc.
Bad carbohydrates are refined carbohydrates that do not contain the beneficial fibre, are digested fast and spike blood glucose levels quickly. Examples of bad carbohydrates include table sugar, honey, soft drinks, bakery products, refined flour, instant noodles, toffees, etc.
How much carbohydrate should one eat?
Depending on age, physical activity and other health factors, carbohydrates should form 40% to 60% of total calories of the diet of a healthy person. One should include sources of good carbohydrates as not only do they provide fibre, but they also often add various minerals and vitamins to the diet.
Who should avoid carbohydrates?
No one. Carbohydrates should be a part of daily diet for everyone. However, children suffering from epilepsy should restrict carbohydrates and follow a low/no carb diet, also known as ketogenic diet.
Are there any side effects of carbohydrates?
Yes. Consumption of excess carbohydrates can have some side-effects. Excess carbs get converted to fats in the body and are stored in the adipose tissue (tissues that contain stored fat). This leads to increase in weight and obesity. Consumption of excessive simple sugar can give a person a sugar high and make him irritable. Also, consuming excessive simple carbohydrates for long periods can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Thus, carbohydrates are essential for health and play a vital role in the body; however, one should be careful to choose good carbohydrates and avoid bad ones.