What are carbohydrates?

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What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients in our diet, along with protein and fat. Carbohydrates is a term that includes sugar, fruits, vegetables, fibers, and legumes. They are the main source of energy for our body. While there are many divisions of carbohydrates, the diet benefits mostly come from a certain subset. So what are carbohydrates really? What are the different types of carbohydrates? Good Carbs, Bad Carbs. We hear these terms all the time. Lets dive deeper.

Some if you may know, not “All Carbs Are Made Equal”. Let’s learn how to make the right decision.If you wish to learn about how our online diabetes doctors and our telehealth diabetes care center can help with your diet, contact us after you finish reading the article and remember to share with other people who may benefit from the information. Lets now dive into learning what are carbs( carbohydrates)

Carbohydrate controversy

What carbs are not good for diabetes
Carbs with high GI index

Carbohydrates are one of the most controversial food groups out there. Diabetics and people who embark on a fat-cutting journey(Such as keto diet) are told to stay vary of them. Fitness experts mostly crash on carbohydrates. Yet, carbs are what essentially keep us alive, and frankly, no-one can resist them. Understanding what carbohydrates are and applying what you have learned can make a great difference in your diabetes care. Eating the right amount and correct amount of carbohydrates can definitely put your diabetes in remission as well.

Bread and cakes are a breakfast delicacy loved by everyone. Asian cuisine is incomplete without a side serving of rice and a noodle bowl to go with. All these high-carb treats are an essential part of various cultures and countries across the world.

Who can resist a saucy breakfast sandwich or a juicy fruit bowl? Carbohydrates are, after all, incredibly delicious and pretty much ‘the life of a meal.’  How is it then that more than half of the fitness geeks, health experts, and weight-watchers are told to eat less of them? What’s in a bread or pasta dish that makes it so… ’detestable’?

Are all the carbohydrates the same?

Fitness blogs compel us to resent them, but ask yourself, do you really know that mouth-watering morsel we call a carbohydrate? If a diet plan requires you to sacrifice it for a good 3 months, would you blindly conform? Or, will you dig deeper into why it’s out of the diet regimen in the first place? And if possible, figure out healthy carbs that you can safely squeeze in?

Anyone who loves carbs – that makes most of us – will do the latter. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

How Do Carbohydrates Metabolize in the Body?

Well, it all boils down to the molecular structure of carbs. At their very foundation, they metabolize into weight-gaining sugars in the body. Most starchy foods like potatoes, fruits, and processed grains have a really high glycemic index. This can spike blood sugar levels and insulin in the body.

Refined carbs such as the ones in the bakery products have consequential effects on a person’s metabolism, blood sugar, and overall health.

Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of energy and a vital part of any diet across the world. Being one of the three “macronutrients” that your body relies on for proper functioning – they are the building blocks of energy.  Fats and proteins are the other two necessary macronutrients.

What the carbohydrates do? What is the function of carbohydrates?

Carbs provide fuel for the central nervous system and the energy required for your muscles to function. The body cannot produce these macronutrients that you can only access through certain foods. You obtain these foods in your diet.

A healthy intake of carbs can,

  • Provide energy
  • Protect against diseases
  • Help in weight control

The foods we eat primarily contain three different types of carbohydrates consisting of starches, fiber, and sugars. Let’s start by exploring what they are and how they affect your body.

What are Complex and Simple Carbohydrates?

To make it easy, we will divide them into simple and complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates

“Complex carbohydrates” – also known as polysaccharides – are a bunch of sugar molecules strung together in a long, complex chain. Just imagine a bunch of sugar cubes all holding hands.

Due to the complexity of these types of carbohydrates, they take longer to break down in the body. Since complex carbs are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates, they tend not to spike blood sugar levels in your body.

Hence, this makes complex carbs way healthier than simple ones. This is because they are minimally processed or non-refined so they tend to metabolize slowly and gradually in the body. Whole grains (non-refined) like brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, and chickpeas, starchy vegetables, and beans are the best food choices.

Examples of complex carbohydrates

Examples of starchy vegetables are potatoes, including sweet potatoes, corn, and peas. So when nutritionists advise having complex carbohydrates, they are referring to whole grain foods and starchy vegetables.

Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, as the name suggests, are broken down and quickly digested by the body. They are naturally found in most foods like milk, dairy products, fruits, and refined sugars. Table sugars, corn syrups, sodas, and store-bought candies, bakery are processed carbs that come under this category.

The Essential Role of Fibers in Carbohydrates

As mentioned above, complex carbs are far healthier and safer for the body than simple ones. Here’s why.  The rich fiber content, vitamins, and minerals are what makes them a diet-friendly food. Whole grains, starchy vegetables, and beans all provide a substantial amount of fiber and essential minerals.

Fiber is a critical component of any diet, but it is especially important for people with diabetes. Fiber helps keep your blood sugar levels from spiking too high. It can help regulate your cholesterol levels and is extremely important for intestinal health. It improves the internal gut environment, which is fundamental for healthy digestion.

Recommendations on fiber intake

However, even when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advise a much higher RDI for fiber, the majority of adults-only consume 15 grams on an average. So, if you’re looking for a short-cut to a high-fiber diet, then complex carbs are the way to go.

Refined starches or carbohydrates, such as white bread and white pasta, are starches that have undergone processing. Processing removes the bran and germ of the grain, stripping them of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Why body absorbs to refined carbohydrates very quickly inspect the blood sugars?

The reason why they’re rapidly digested into the bloodstream is that there is no protein, fiber, or fat content present in them. They’re basically “empty calories.”  This can contribute to blood sugar and insulin spikes. It’s important to understand that complex carbohydrates include all starches, regardless of whether they are whole, refined, or fiber content.


In summary, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, are considered a “good” carbs because they take the body longer to break down. Which means you will get lower amounts of sugars released at a more consistent rate, instead of rapid highs and lows. They keep you feeling full and going throughout the day.

Refined Sugars – The Dangerous Carbohydrates

Yes, sugar is a carbohydrate and the sweetest of it. Table sugars are simple, refined, and highly processed. Therefore, simple carbohydrates raise blood sugar much faster and usually higher than complex carbohydrates.

Types of Sugars

There are two main types of sugars in our diets – naturally occurring and added sugars. Their chemical names are sucrose and fructose. Table sugar would be sucrose, and fruit sugar would be fructose. A good thing to remember is that the total sugars on a nutritional label include both natural and added sugars.

Many of you know sugar by many names like table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar cane syrup. Don’t forget the milk! Milk contains a sugar which is known as lactose.

You can easily spot a disguised sugar in an ingredient list because they will always end in -ose. Sugars and “simple carbohydrates” have a bad reputation, but they’re not all necessarily bad as it depends on the source.

Carbohydrates in Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals necessary for overall good health. They naturally contain simple carbohydrates composed of basic sugars.

However, beware, because yummy treats like cookies and cakes are also considered simple carbs but differ from fruits and vegetables, due to the added refined sugars.

Does fiber change the way blood sugars are observed in the body?

There is fiber in fruits and vegetables. This fiber changes the way your body processes its sugars. Added sugars provide no nutrition aside from energy (Which is why we referred them as empty calories), individuals looking to lose weight or control blood sugar levels benefit from eliminating sources of added sugar from their diet. But if you are at risk of hypoglycemia, do not worry about taking this type of sugar.

According to Dr. Ludwig MD, Ph.D., and professor at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health examined the effects of fructose in the body. He concluded that excessive refined sugars can dramatically increase the chances of obesity, poor heart health, and high cholesterol levels in later life. He also noted that simple sugars were far worse in spiking up blood sugar levels and contributing to heart diseases.

Helpful tip: According to the American Diabetes Association, nutritional labels do not differentiate carbohydrates. The term “total carbohydrate” includes all three types of carbohydrates we discussed. This is the number you should pay attention to if you are carb counting.

Glycemic index – The Crucial Link Between Carbs and Diabetes

When it comes to carbohydrates, it’s important to know that the rate of break down and absorption is key in managing blood glucose levels. But how can you tell what foods will have the greatest impact on your next blood sugar reading? The glycemic index is here to help.

The Glycemic Index (GI) can seem complicated and difficult to understand. However, once you obtain an understanding, you’ll see how this can make a huge difference in your diabetes diet management. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels.

Is there is a scoring system or scale for the glycemic index?

Scaled from 0 to 100, carbs with a low glycemic index value (55 or less) are slowly absorbed by our bodies as compared to carbs with a high GI. They cause blood glucose to rise slowly, and therefore, insulin levels as well. Carbohydrates with mid to high values get absorbed much faster, which is why they cause a spike.

According to the Mayo Clinic, GI values are generally divided into three categories.

  • Low GI ranges from 1-55,
  • Medium GI ranges from 56-69,
  • High GI is 70 or higher

 If you’re wondering about the foods that have a low, medium, and high GI, then read the list below:

Low GI:

  • Bran breakfast cereals
  • Raw carrots
  • Green vegetables
  • Most fruits-except watermelon, grapes, honeydew, pineapples, ripe bananas
  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • If you are not sure you can always google the name of the food item and type glycemic index next to it and google will answer it for you quickly.

Medium GI:

  • Sweet corn
  • Oat breakfast cereals
  • Bananas
  • Raw pineapple
  • Oat bran
  • Raisins
  • Multigrain
  • Rye bread

High GI:

  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Potatoes
  • Some fruits( Pineapples,Watermelon, ripe bananas, dried dates)
  • Cheerios Corn Flakes
  • Corn Chex Cream of wheat
  • Grape-Nuts
  • Grape Nut Flakes
  • Grits
  • Puffed wheat and rice
  • Rice Chex
  • Rice Krispies
  • Raisin Bran
  • Shredded Wheat

My patients will be so surprised to see their blood sugars spiking from 110 in the morning to 230 1 hour after eating cereal or a piece of toast. Yes, if you are insulin resistant, 30 gm of carbs in an apple versus in 2 pieces of toast can make up to 100 mg/dl change in your blood glucose.

If you want foods that are low GI, go for whole grain foods. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have refined carbs, which are high GI.

Calculating the GI of carbohydrates can be as simple as using an app! Many applications found on both iPhone and Android provide a search function that allows you to search for specific foods to automatically calculate GI.

Role of Your Diabetes Coach and Endocrinologist

Please note, its best to follow an individualized prescribed diet as recommended by your diabetes care team. Doctors and diabetes coaches at http://www.SugarMDs.com can provide the necessary dietary guidance and continuous glucose monitoring to help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels.Learning more about carbohydrates and applying to your diabetes treatment will make a great difference in your A1c.

At SugarMDs, you will have a diabetic coach and an endocrinologist advising you on your diet, and exercise very closely. Think of them like a good friend keeping an eye on you. That way you can avoid costly diabetic medications that also have serious side effects.

Even when you are on medications you should know how to be consistent with your diet in terms of the carbohydrates you consume in every meal. It will be a challenge initially but once you get the hang of it, you will feel more self-control on your diet.

Soon enough, mindful eating will become second nature. It’s funny how people think about what type of gas they’re putting in their cars and have no understanding of what type of food is going in their tummies. Well, it’s time to make that decision.

Befriending Healthy Carbs – Successful Self-Management of Diabetes

Successful self-management of diabetes is the simple difference between choosing a healthy, complex carb and a refined sugary treat. It will challenge your self-control but once you get on with healthy eating, there’s no going back.

Here are some ways to improve your intake of healthy carbs, and self-regulate your blood sugars.

  • Increase your water intake
  • Eat more beans, legumes, and peas to increase the variety of minerals, fiber, and proteins in your diet.
  • Have a decent portion of fiber-rich veggies and fruits with every meal
  • Reduce your dairy intake or stick to low-fat versions
  • Cut down or at least limit added sugars like candies, soft drinks, white pastas, French fries, etc.
  • Have a limited amount of dried fruits like figs, dates, and raisins
  • Make a conscious effort to choose whole grains like brown rice, brown pasta, and wholegrain breads for breakfast and lunch. You will be surprised at how this little change will go a long way in regulating blood sugar levels. Instead of having a bowl of cereal, switch it up with quinoa or healthy granola.

With these simple changes, prepare to be amazed at how well your body begins to manage diabetes. You won’t even need to go to a doctor or get blood-sugar tablets.

I hope that the article was useful to you. Our goal is to provide accurate and useful information to our patients at http://www.sugarmds.com

Author: Ahmet Ergin, MD, FACE, CDCES, ECNU
About the author: Dr. Ergin operates a large diabetes practice mostly in Jupiter, FL and yet can see diabetic patients across the entire state of Florida via a unique telehealth platform which also allows him and his team to track patient progress and be available at all times.

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