Demystifying Carbohydrate Lingo


This information provided by permission from Nutrition Health Net.

What's a Carbohydrate?


Everything we eat is made up of some combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Simple sugars (like table sugar), starches (like pasta), and fiber (like oat bran) are types of dietary carbohydrates. All carbohydrates deliver four calories per gram. But please remember that all carbohydrates are not bad! Carbohydrates are vital because they provide the body with the energy it needs to support daily activities — from breathing and digestion to thinking and exercise.

Why Count Carbs?


In general, carbohydrates cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly while fat and protein cause blood sugar to rise more slowly. In response to a rise in blood sugar, the body releases insulin, the hormone required to bring blood sugar into cells or fat tissue. If you eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, the insulin cycle can become imbalanced, resulting in continually raised insulin levels. High insulin levels have been associated with obesity as well as increased risk for heart disease and blood sugar disorders. Controlled-carb diets may promote a gradual rise and fall of insulin and are therefore more satiating. In high protein/controlled carb diets, it is thought that weight loss occurs through consumption of fewer calories resulting from increased satiety. Weight loss also occurs because very low carb intake triggers a condition called ketosis, which forces the body to burn fat stores, but ketosis can be unhealthy if continued for a long period of time.

What are Net Carbs?


Although not confirmed by the FDA, manufacturers use the term "net carb" to calculate the carbohydrates thought to have a significant impact on blood sugar levels. To figure out the number of net carbs in a serving, many manufacturers subtract the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols (i.e. maltitol, sorbitol, or erythritol) from the number of total carbohydrates. Fiber and sugar alcohols are subtracted because, even though they are carbohydrates, they are believed to have a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols are increasingly appearing in controlled carb products because they substitute nicely for traditional sugars while adding fewer calories per gram. A caution for consuming sugar alcohols: A laxative effect may occur when consumed in large quantities.

What's the Glycemic Index?


The glycemic index measures how quickly a carbohydrate digests, enters the bloodstream, and raises blood sugar levels. High glycemic index foods, such as refined flours and high sugar beverages, are quickly digested, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Such effects have been linked to diabetes, overeating, and obesity. Low glycemic index foods (in general, foods high in fiber and protein), contribute to a steadier blood sugar level and have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of diabetes. Many controlled carb diets recommend eating low glycemic index foods, such as beans, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables. Keep in mind that the glycemic index of a food may be balanced in the context of a meal where several foods of varying glycemic levels are consumed.


 
   



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