The next main food group I would like to briefly discuss is carbohydrates. This is an area where a great deal of confusion exists, not least due to the fact that such a vast cross-section of foods fall within this one category. To explore this food group further I will refer to Murray and Pizzorno’s book, ‘The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods’.Once we have looked at some of the facts I will later explore how this food group fits into a diet to support good gut ecology.
Carbohydrates are classified into two basic groups:simple and complex… Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, are either monosccharides composed of one sugar molecule or disaccharides composed of two sugar molecules. The principle monosaccharides that occur in foods are glucose (found in fruit, honey, sweetcorn and root vegetables) and fructose (found in fruits, maple syrup and honey). The major disaccharides are sucrose, also known as white sugar, which is composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose; maltose (found in malted grains and syrups), which is composed of two molecules of glucose; and lactose (the sugar in milk), which is composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of galactose.
The simple nature of these sugars means that they are broken down, predominantly to glucose, either at the surface of the intestine or in the liver, and absorbed into the bloodstream very quickly.
Complex carbohydrates or starches, are composed of many simple sugars joined together by chemical bonds. These bonds can be linked together in a serial chain, one after another, as well as side to side, creating branches. Basically, the more chains and branches, the more complex the carbohydrate. The more complex a carbohydrate is, the more slowly it is broken down. Some carbohydrates are complex in a way that the body cannot digest them. These carbohydrates are a main component of fibre, and generally pass through the digestive tract unabsorbed. In general, as long as complex carbohydrates are present in high fibre foods, the body breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars more gradually, which leads to better blood sugar control.
Many in the medical and research communities now believe that excessive consumption of carbohydrates – specifically, carbohydrates that have been refined and stripped of their supportive nutrients – is a major contributing factor in a wide variety of diseases and premature ageing.
More important than labelling a carbohydrate simple or complex is to consider its glycaemic index or glycaemic load. The glycaemic index provides a numerical value that expresses the rise of blood glucose after eating a particular food. The glycaemic load, takes the glycaemic index into account but gives a more complete picture of the effect that a food has on blood sugar levels because it also takes into account the amount of carbohydrate in the food.
For example, green peas and banana cake have nearly the same glycaemic index, but the glycaemic load of peas is just 2, whereas the cake’s glycaemic load is 21.6! Clearly, the glycaemic load offers a more helpful and healthy way of comparing foods.
In coming days I will write more about the different types of sugars – particularly lactose, and fibre, but for my next post I want to briefly consider the role carbohydrates have within a protocol to support gut ecology.