Carbohydrates are in the top three essential nutrients along with fats and proteins. They are considered excellent sources of energy, but also have a bad reputation for weight loss. Many weight watchers want to go on a "low carb" diet or even cut out carbs. But is it really that useful? There is also a lot of talk about "good and bad" or "simple and complex" carbohydrates: how do you tell them apart?
Carbohydrates are found in all plant foods, as well as anything made from sugar and/or grains. In fact, the human body is tuned to the consumption of carbohydrates: they play a major role in the metabolism of sugar. Because, whether it's pasta, powdered sugar, cornstarch, or flour, carbohydrates are, simply put, made up of more or less long chains of sugar building blocks. This is why chemists also refer to carbohydrates as single, double, and multiple sugars (mono-, di-, and oligosaccharides).
Our bodies break down formations of different sizes during digestion: whenever we consume carbohydrates (for example, in the form of fruit juice, beer, fruit, grain products or potatoes), our digestive enzymes break them down in the gastrointestinal tract into smaller ones (sugar ) building blocks.
The most important small carbohydrate building block for our bodies is glucose. It is the main fuel for our cells. Our brain alone consumes about 140 grams of this substance per day to do its job. Muscle cells burn more or less glucose depending on activity. Glucose has other names: Health professionals also call it blood sugar, athletes also call it dextrose tablets or grape sugar drinks for quick energy. But behind all these names is the same substance.
Simple carbohydrates cause food cravings
Blood sugar levels spike with many short-chain carbohydrates, also called "fast" or "light" carbohydrates.
The best-known source of fast carbohydrates is sugar in all its forms: table sugar (sucrose, sucrose), milk sugar (lactose), powdered sugar, syrup. Honey contains glucose mixed with fructose. Fructose (fruit sugar), while not raising blood sugar levels, puts a different strain on metabolism as it is directly converted to fat in the liver.
For example, simple carbohydrates can be found here:
Juices, soft drinks, cocktails
Cereal bars, breakfast cereals (prepared products)
Jam, sweet spreads
White bread, toast, light bread/buns
Sweets, snacks such as chips
Glycemic index and food cravings
A rough rule of thumb is: "The sweeter a food tastes, the more fast carbohydrates it contains." Simple carbohydrates tend to have a high glycemic index (GI). GI is a measure of the rate at which the building blocks of glucose are absorbed into the blood. A high GI means that the food gives you energy very quickly and causes a spike in your blood sugar levels. However, after that, it also falls off rapidly. This rapid drop in blood sugar triggers the release of stress hormones and can cause food cravings. In some people, it even causes headaches or migraines.
Complex carbohydrates are satiating substances
Long chain carbohydrates are broken down by the body a little more slowly. An example of this is starch, for example in potatoes and cereals. The so-called multisaccharides saturate a little longer. But satiety is much better if fiber is present in the food at the same time, for example, in whole grains. Foods containing complex carbohydrates raise blood sugar more slowly and have a medium or low glycemic index.
Good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
Legumes (peas, lentils, beans)
Seeds and seeds (flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
Whole wheat bread
Oatmeal, cereal flakes (natural)
Whole grain rice, wholemeal pasta.
Flexible Carbohydrates: A Healthy, Balanced Carbohydrate Diet
In order to maintain a healthy weight in the long term, a flexible carbohydrate method is recommended: it aims to be flexible in consuming as many carbohydrates as you consume energy at a time. According to this, athletes and physically active people are allowed to put more bread, potatoes, cakes or pasta on their plate than office workers. Those in need of a quick physical recovery can sometimes get a sugar-laden energy boost, but be aware that the subsequent drop in blood sugar can lead to reduced focus and productivity. Usually carbohydrates in their complex form are more suitable for healthy and sustainable energy: for example, whole grain bread, oatmeal, vegetable soup or lentil soup.