Carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation among weight watchers. These are not bad because not all carbohydrates are equal, what matters is how one chooses these food items. Some are healthier than others.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in many common foods. Plant-based foods such as grains and pulses (daals and legumes) are rich in carbohydrates. Commercially prepared, packed and processed foods may have added sugar or starch, which are forms of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate in its simplest form is sugar or glucose while in its complex form it is found as starch. Fibre is also a form of indigestible carbohydrate.
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, legumes, sugars, honey, jaggery etc.
Carbohydrates have numerous health benefits and have an important role in our diet. The benefits include providing energy, protecting against diseases and weight control. The body uses carbohydrates as its main fuel. Sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion and are absorbed in the bloodstream. Some of these broken-down simple sugars are used as fuel for activity and excess is converted to fat. Dietary fibre from whole grains, fruits and vegetables helps protect against digestive problems, weight problems, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Carbohydrates increase blood sugars and can be classified on the basis of their effect on blood sugars. This is measured in a frequently used term called glycemic index. The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise the blood sugar level. In other words, glycemic index (GI) refers to the extent of rise in blood sugar in response to a food in comparison with the response to an equivalent amount of glucose. Foods with a high glycemic index (50 or more) trigger a sharp rise in blood glucose, followed by a dramatic fall, often to the levels that are transiently below normal. After a typically low level of blood sugar that occurs several hours after a high glycemic index meal, people may become hungry and then overeat in comparison to their counterparts on low-glycemic index diets. Foods like table or white sugar, white bread, refined flour, potatoes, bananas, mangoes, melon, and water melon are high glycemic index foods.
The body copes more easily with low glycemic index (less than 50) foods, which trigger slower and more modest changes in the blood glucose levels. Low glycemic index foods tend to be less processed and contain good amounts of fibre, protein or fat. Since these nutrients take longer to digest, an individual tends to feel full longer and hunger is suppressed; blood sugar also does not peak or plummet after consumption of such foods. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds raise blood sugar slowly and have a low glycemic index.
Weight-loss diets based on the glycemic index typically restrict foods with a relatively high glycemic index such as rice, wheat flour, potatoes and corn. Either limit the portion of these foods or combine them with low glycemic foods and fibrous foods. Low glycemic carbohydrates help you lose weight and keep you feeling full longer.
Besides the quality, the amount of carbohydrates consumed is important. According to recommendations, carbohydrates make up 45 to 60 per cent of the total daily calories.
So choose carbohydrates wisely. Go for whole grains like barley, oats, brown rice, legumes, daals, soybean, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds. Limit foods with added sugars and refined grains, fruit juices, sweetened drinks, desserts and candy.
The writer is Clinical Nutritionist & Founder, theweightmonitor.com, Founder-WholeFoodsIndia & Founder President- Celiac Society For Delhi.
Foods with low GI
• Multigrain flours, brown rice, pasta, oats, barley, amaranth, quinoa
• Daals, pulses & soy
• Low fat dairy
• Nuts & seeds
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