How many people do you know that believe ‘carbs’ are to be avoided?
It’s a common misconception that carbohydrates are bad for our diet, and should be avoided at all costs. However, this is not strictly true. Digestible carbohydrates (sugars and starches) can be very important to the body as a source of energy.
Even the more indigestible carbohydrates (oligosaccharides, dietary fibre and resistant starch), have important effects on our health, although provide little energy to the body. Some of these effects are;
– Encouraging waste to be removed from the gut through laxation
– Helping to reduce blood cholesterol through the breakdown products that are formed when they are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine
– Helping to slow down the digestion and absorption of glucose
It is very important to include a variety of different plant foods in your diet, as each type differs in the health benefits they can promote.
Dietary carbohydrates vary in size from one single sugar unit, to complex constructions of thousands of sugar units joined together. Their chemical structures are also different. These differences are important because they indicate how, or if, they can be digested into our bodies.
There are three main groups of dietary carbohydrates:
– Monosaccharides and Disaccharides, or simple sugars. Monosaccharides are made up of one sugar unit. Disaccharides are made up of two sugar units. Most of these simple sugars are very easily broken down in the gut and absorbed into the body.
– Oligosaccharides. These form when three to nine sugar units become joined together. It is very difficult for the body to break down and digest in the small intestine, and instead they are moved on to the large intestine, where they can be broken down. Oligosaccharides can be found in onions, garlic, beans and lentils, among other plant foods. These indigestible carbohydrates are examples of ‘prebiotics’.
– Polysaccharides – These carbohydrates have nine or more sugar units and often up to several thousands of sugar units joined together. The two major groups of polysaccharides are starch and dietary fibre.
Starch is made up of long chains of glucose. Most starches are digested in the small intestine without difficulty, and the glucose units are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. However, ‘resistant starch’, which is found in grains and seeds, is harder to digest.
Although dietary fibre is listed separately to digestible carbohydrates on our food packaging, it is in fact a type of carbohydrate. There are two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre is found in oats and citrus fruits, among other things. It can help to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates into your system, keeping your blood sugar steady in the process.
Insoluble fibres are more difficult to break down. They are pushed down to the large intestine where bacteria can help to break them down. However, insoluble fibres can also have their benefits, for example, they can aid in preventing constipation. You can find these in oats, brown rice, nuts and seeds.
Fuel the body
F E E L W E L L
The ROWE® Team