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Carbs - Part 6 - How to Choose the Carbohydrates in Our Diet, Glycemic Index and, More.

Carbohydrate - Part 6

In this series of articles, I am talking about:

Part 1 - How to calculate the basal metabolic rate, and how a restrictive diet actually might not help lose weight.

Part 2 - How to estimate our daily calorie intake, an estimative of the number of calories we should daily consume in order to maintain optimal energy levels and vitality. 

Part 3 - Macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins). And why should we pay attention to macronutrients not calories. 

Part 4 – Carbohydrate - How to estimate the right amount of carbs for us?

Part 5 – Carbohydrate – How to transform your ideal carbohydrate percentage into the right amount of carbohydrate in your plate, and alcoholic beverages and their calories.

In this article, I am going to explainhow to best select the carbohydrates in our diet and more.

How to choose the carbohydrates in our diet?

Carbohydrate is a macronutrient with no established minimum requirement. And while many populations have prospered on carbohydrates as their main source of energy, others have done so with little if any carbohydrate foods throughout the year, such as the traditional diets of the Inuit, Laplanders, among others.

Consequently, despite the fact that human populations have thrived on diets with really varied contents of their macronutrients, the recent rise in consumption of rapidly digestible carbohydrates in some developed countries contributed to the epidemics of obesity and cardio-metabolic diseases in these countries. Also, it is very likely that the starch-based diets in some developing countries contributed to the increased risk of chronic diseases in these countries. (1, 2, 3)

Unquestionably, the quality of the carbohydrates eaten appears to have a more important role in the health of the population than the quantity of the carbs consumed per se. And scientific studies shown that the consumption of rapidly digestible carbohydrates in the form of sugary foods, including beverages, as having a great influence on the risk of numerous chronic diseases, and directly related to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and some types of cancer. (4, 5)

Then, it is worth to keep in mind that the metabolic effects of carbs vary between individuals, and that some people react more to carbohydrates, while others react less to it. And each person reaction to a carbohydrate food, depend on their own level of insulin resistance, glucose intolerance or other biological predispositions inherited or acquired.

Because carbohydrates are not created equal, they are neither digested, nor absorbed equally. Also, we all react to it in different ways. So, when we are selecting the carbs in our diet, we must consider some important facts:

1- Some foods have a high carbohydrate density, while others have a low carbohydrate density;

2- Simple carbohydrates are quickly used by our body as energy, glucose, causing a rapid increase in the level of sugar in the blood and insulin secretion by the pancreas;

3- In contrast, complex carbohydrates or foods that have their molecules linked together through a more complex chemical structure, take a lot more time to be digested, and causes a more gradual effect in increasing blood sugar;

4- There are some carbs that resist to our own digestion, passing intact through the digestive tract and reaching the colon of the intestine intact. Then, these foods are fermented and digested by the colonies of bacteria that reside in this area.

5- Another important detail is that we spend energy or calories digesting our food. And, some carbohydrates in our diet (veggies and salads) spend more energy to be digested than they provide us energy or calories. And although they do not provide us with calories, they give us micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, especially electrolytes, phytochemicals, antioxidants, fibers, etc. (6, 7, 8)

As you could see, carbohydrate can be a complex and confusing topic, and for this reason, many people choose their carbs based in the glycemic index.

Then, let’s talk about the glycemic index, and if we should consider choosing our carbs based on their glycemic index.

Is choosing our carbohydrates accordingly to their glycemic index a good strategy?

A short answer for this question is: no. But let’s understand why…

Foods that contain carbohydrates have a wide range of effects on glycemic response. And, as you saw before, certain carbohydrates result in a rapid increase in blood glucose concentrations, while other carbs result in a gradual and more prolonged increase in our blood glucose levels. (9)

What measures the glycemic index?

The glycemic index is an assessment that measures the content of carbohydrates in a food, based on the effect that the food has on the blood sugar levels after a meal. And the classification of the glycemic index of foods has been used as a tool to evaluate possible strategies for the prevention and treatment of diseases in which glycemic control is important, such as diabetes.

Created in 1981, the Glycemic Index has been used as a tool for people with diabetes to better select their foods. And the glycemic index of a carbohydrate provides information about the glycemic response that can be expected when a person consumes an amount of a specific food that contains a certain amount of carbohydrates. (10, 11)

When applying this concept, foods were classified by their glycemic indexes in three categories:

1- Low glycemic index - GI less than or equal to 55

2- Average glycemic index - GI between 56-69

3- High glycemic index - GI greater than or equal to 70

Also, foods with carbohydrates were classified by their glycemic loads in 3 categories:

1- Low glycemic load - less than or equal to 10

2- Average glycemic load - between 11-19

3- High glycemic load - greater than and equal to 20

Complicate, isn’t it?

Then, before we continue to talk about the glycemic index, we need to be aware that there are some factors suggesting that making dietary recommendations based on the glycemic index can be misleading. Factors as: The great variability among individuals in the glycemic responses to a certain food, combined with the idea that a food with a low glycemic index does not always mean that this food has a high nutritional value.

To understand what it means, let’s have an example of a food with a high glycemic index: potatoes. Despite of a high glycemic index, a potato can have other healthy qualities, including low energy density, high satiety rate and great nutritional value.

In the other side, an example of a food with a low glycemic index: lasagna with meat and/or cheese. Even though it has a low glycemic index, it has high energy density, low satiety rate, and with no nutritional value.

Then, instead of focusing on the glycemic index of our foods, studies suggest another approach as more positive when it comes to selecting the carbohydrates in our diet. An approach that reduces the risk of chronic diseases, mostly related to our diet and modern lifestyle.

In other words, there is a concept that is more appropriate, efficient and easier to use than the glycemic index and that can be simpler applied when we are considering the quality of the carbohydrates in our foods: Cellular and acellular carbohydrates. (12, 13, 14, 15)

Cellular versus acellular carbohydrate

Cellular Carbohydrates

The cellular carbohydrates are the foods that store carbohydrates inside of cells with fiber walls, which, even after cooking, remain practically intact, presenting a low density of carbohydrates. Consequently, these low carb density foods help stabilize blood sugar levels and are a healthier option to us.

For example, roots and tubers, fruits, leaves and vegetables. All functional foods and constant presence in the diet of our ancestors and essential in any healthy eating plan. Foods that in addition to provide us with their energy, also provide us with vital nutrients to our health, such as vitamins, minerals, fibers, etc. (16)

The fibers or prebiotics (fibers and prebiotics are the same) in these cellular foods are indigestible by human digestive enzymes, and don’t provide us calories or energy. So, most of these complex fibers resist to our own digestion and reach the colon of our intestine almost intact. Then, fibers will to varying extents be fermented and digested by microflora in the colon of our intestine. And bacterial digestion of these foods generates bioproducts as SCFA (short chain fatty acids), our body natural anti-inflammatories. (17, 18, 19, 20)

Also, the amount and type of fiber consumed has dramatic effects on the composition of the intestinal microbiota. And according to scientists, we evolved as humans eating a daily diet that contained between 100-150 grams of fiber, and right now, the average population eat a daily diet that has between 10-15 grams of fiber, which causes numerous side effects to health.

For this reason, the consumption of a diet that contain a variety of cellular carbohydrates, as diverse as possible is essential in the production of a healthy and diverse gastrointestinal microbiota. Or an intestinal microbiota that is consistent with our evolutionary condition.

And unquestionably, having a strong and diverse intestinal microbiota is one of the most essential factors in the prevention of nearly all modern chronic health conditions such as overweight, metabolic disease, cancer, etc.

In conclusion, virtually all our ancestral foods or the cellular carbohydrates are unprocessed carbs, filled with plenty of fibers, and have significantly low carbohydrate density than foods that contain flour and sugar. Consequently, make us feel better satiated, and deliver to us nutrients needed to proper function of our metabolism and optimal health.

Acellular carbohydrates

In the other side of the carbohydrate spectrum, we have the acellular carbohydrates. Things such as: refined and processed flours (whole or conventional) and sugars (all types, including sugary drinks as sodas, juices, etc.). The acellular carbohydrates provide us energy however, with little or no nutrients at all. They are also called empty calories.

In fact, these foods no longer have their cells intact and have a high carbohydrate density. In addition, these are processed foods or carbs that cause imbalances in our intestinal flora, producing an environment favorable to inflammation.

Processed carbohydrate foods in general affect our health by producing inflammation or literally set our body on fire. Differently from the foods that we are genetically adapted to eat, these “foods-like” products are chemically processed and made from refined ingredients, artificial substances and completely depleted from fibers and vital nutrients.

Products that are designed by the food industry to be highly palatable, motivating us to eat more than is needed. Besides it, these products last in the supermarket shelves for extended periods of time, even years, and are made with synthetic micronutrients, overloaded with inflammatory refined vegetable oils, excesses of sugar and salt, colorants, preservatives, chemicals, etc.

So, keep in mind that regardless of the amount of carbohydrates you decide to eat daily in your diet (here), it is the quality or the type of the carbohydrates in your plate that has influence on the risk of numerous chronic diseases as obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune problems, digestive symptoms such as food intolerance, allergic reactions, Alzheimer’s, etc. (21, 22, 23, 24)

In short, without any question select fresh, wholesome foods or cellular carbohydrates, over processed and refined or acellular foods. Also, play with different percentages of carbohydrates (here), until you feel in your own health that the percentage of carbohydrate you are eating is producing a positive response in your energy levels, vitality, and is also helping you meet your personal goals (keep, maintain or lose weight).

In the next article, I will continue to talk about carbohydrates.

Please, leave a comment or question in the link below.

See you soon.

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