Most experts recommend that 50 to 60 per cent of the total calories in our diet come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide most of the energy needed to perform normal body functions such as heartbeat, breathing and digestion, plus activities such as cycling, walking and running.
Complex versus Simple Carbohydrates
Before the Glycaemic Index was introduced in the 1980s, the primary distinction between a ‘good’ carbohydrate and a ‘bad’ carbohydrate was whether it was a ‘complex’ or ‘simple’ carbohydrate food. The bulk of the carbohydrates that we consume should be complex.
A complex carbohydrate:
consists of a huge number of glucose (sugar) molecules stitched together in long chains
is usually less processed than a simple carbohydrate and tends to be digested more slowly, and thus is less likely to raise your blood sugar
is usually packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals
is often referred to as ‘starch’ or ‘fibre’. A starch is a complex carbohydrate held together by digestible stitches. Fibre is held together by indigestible stitches.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, wholewheat bread and brown rice.
In contrast, a simple carbohydrate:
is a much smaller number of glucose molecules stitched together into short chains
is frequently more processed than a complex carbohydrate
is digested more quickly, and raises blood sugar more quickly
is often referred to as a ‘sugar’.
Examples of simple carbohydrates are honey, sugar, fruit juice, milk and yoghurt, which also contain vitamins and minerals.
Humans have been consuming unrefined complex carbohydrates for many thousands of years with no apparent ill effects. But, as soon as we started refining and processing natural, complex carbohydrates into fabricated convenience foods, the rate of chronic disease began to increase dramatically. A large number of studies have shown a correlation between consumption of refined carbohydrates and chronic health disorders, including polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Therefore, you are generally better off eating complex carbohydrates instead of simple ones. Complex carbohydrates are most commonly found in whole grains, legumes (beans) and vegetables.
The Glycaemic Index is a ranking of foods by how much they increase your blood sugar levels two or three hours after you have eaten them. Foods high in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) are the ones you’ll find in the Index, because they’re most likely to increase your blood sugar. Glycaemic Index lists of foods are widely and freely available on the internet.
The Glycaemic Index is relevant for women who have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). Chronically high insulin is a problem for women with PCOS, because insulin profoundly alters overall hormone balance, and causes your metabolism to go awry. For example, hyperinsulinism (excessive insulin) contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. A requirement for controlling PCOS is to dampen your insulin response after food or drink is consumed. You can control your insulin to a great extent by avoiding upward spikes in your blood sugar caused by eating the wrong kinds of food.
Combining a high Glycaemic Index food with protein is a way of slowing down the release of sugar into the blood stream. For example, eating a handful of nuts or seeds with fruit will have this effect. This is then referred to as the ‘Glycaemic Load’.
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About The Author:
Siobhan Hargreaves is Director of Kick-Start Boot Camp, which offers UK fitness holidays to encourage people change their lifestyle, get fit and lose weight. 4 and 7-day fitness boot camps for ladies and 4-day fitness boot camps for men are held regularly at Kick-start’s base in the East Midlands. Corporate team building activities and adventure weekends are also offered at locations throughout the UK and Europe.