Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

March 7, 2019
Enjoys today blog post from Environmental Intern Rhianna Haynie-Cion.
Every single day the media seems to be flooding the magazines and social media sites with new dieting tips and tricks; “miracle” solutions to help you lose weight without ever lifting a finger. Many diets that celebrities have sworn by include completely cutting out carbohydrates, even though our body relies on carbohydrates as one of the main energy sources for brain and body functionality. With that, we ask, what are carbohydrates? Are there different kinds? Why does cake allegedly make you gain weight and whole wheat bread is encouraged by dietitians? When it comes down to it, we can examine carbohydrates on both a macro scale - how carbs make us feel - to a micro scale, by examining digestion and the breaking down of nutrients.
To begin, there is a difference between simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are made up of just one or two sugar molecules. Simple carbohydrates are generally found in processed foods, such as table sugar, candy, syrups, and sweetened beverages (Manzella). Since they are simple, it does not take much for your body to break them down and absorb them as energy (glucose) into the bloodstream. This rapid absorption of sugars causes blood sugar levels to rise quickly, in comparison to complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates also rarely have additional health components with them, such as fiber, to slow the blood glucose intake.
Complex carbohydrates are starches made up of long chains of molecules. This slows down digestion, meaning that blood sugar levels are not increased as quickly. Complex carbohydrates are the least processed or refined and include whole grains, vegetables, legumes, quinoa, barley, and oatmeal. Foods with complex carbohydrates often incorporate fiber, a molecule that further slows down digestion, regulates cholesterol levels, and promotes intestinal health (Manzella). 
Why is the rate of digestion so significant? When there is glucose in the blood, which comes from carbohydrates, your body produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin tells your cells to uptake the glucose in the bloodstream and use it as energy. When consuming complex carbohydrates, the increase in the size of the carbohydrate chain means that the body takes longer to break apart the carbohydrate molecules into glucose, and there will not be an immediate spike in glucose levels; it will be more of a gentle slope. Additionally, the longer it takes for a molecule to be broken down, the longer your body will have a feeling of being full. Fibers generally attached to complex carbohydrates take a long time to break down, therefore leaving you with a satisfied feeling for a longer time (Reece).
The truth about carbohydrates is that they are absolutely necessary for human health, but need to be regulated. Having high blood glucose levels can result in short and long term health issues. Long story short, carbohydrates are like most things in life - absolutely fine in moderation. But next time you are grocery shopping or looking for something to put your peanut butter and jelly on, consider the whole grain option.

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