Refined Carbohydrates – Don’t blame the butter for what the bread did.

Food, Lifestyle

 Variety of uncooked pasta and vegetables

I start to get tired, I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there’s so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like, ‘You have to stop!’

These were the words of Morgan Spurlock, the man who had MacDonalds everyday for a month for an experiment on a fast food diet.

Most experts recommend that carbohydrates (Carbs) should be about 50 to 55 percent of your total daily calories for maintaining good health. However, according to a study by American Journal of Epidemiology 2013, carbs that have been stripped of their nutritional value are as good as consuming cholesterol-rich foods, leading to life-threatening conditions.

There are two basic types of carbohydrates, simple and complex carbohydrates. The way we get it now – there are refined carbs (artificially made) and unrefined carbs (available in natural form).

Metabolism of Carbohydrates

Metabolism

All carbs eventually break down into glucose to provide energy for the body. The only difference is the time taken by different carbs to break down into glucose.

  • Simple and complex carbs (refined or unrefined). Both are broken down to glucose with a series of metabolic changes.
  • As blood glucose level rises, your pancreas produces insulin. The hormone that helps your body cells (muscles, brain) to absorb blood sugar for energy and some of the glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
  • As cells absorb blood sugar, glucose levels in the blood begin to fall. When this happens, the liver then starts releasing the already stored sugar.
  • This interplay of insulin from the pancreas and stored glycogen from the liver ensures that cells throughout the body and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar.

Carbohydrates – Refined vs Unrefined

“Refining” is a process applied to both simple and complex carbs. Refined carbs have a longer shelf life and enhanced taste. In exchange, you lose the fiber, nutrients, water and other benefits of the food as compared to its unrefined (natural) state. Unfortunately, this process also concentrates the sugar content causing a spike in blood glucose levels when consumed.

Refined Sugar

It is available in various forms of sugar like glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, jams, jellies, processed honey, etc). These are all simple carbs. They are small molecules and are quickly absorbed as glucose in the bloodstream.

sugar food

Refined grains

These are commonly used as refined flour to make processed foods like commercial breakfast cereals, bread, tortillas, and many junk foods that contains a lot of starch. When eaten, they are broken down into sugar by the digestive tract. They convert rapidly into simple sugars and have a similar or if not worse effect on your body as refined sugars.

Refined Carbs (both Simple and Complex Carbs)

The Health Promotion Board in Singapore recommends whole unrefined grains and to limit refined sugar intake to no more than 10%(8-11 tsp) of your daily dietary energy. Studies have also shown that processed carbohydrates may increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, brain and heart problems, more than fats, because of its growing ill-effects.

Bad Effects of Refined Carbs

Pro-inflammation – “Slow fire rising within you”

  • Spiking blood glucose levels leads to increased  pro-inflammatory free radicals. Excess glucose and insulin in the blood causes inflammation of the cells of the blood vessels. In response to this, your body uses fat to be deposited around the inflamed cells causing the formation of atherosclerosis, increasing the risk of heart disease.

atherosclerosis

  • Excess glucose in your body is also stored in your liver by converting it into glycogen. Excessive sugar can fill your liver glycogen stores to its maximum capacity.  To compensate for the overload of glucose in your blood, your liver converts all the stored glycogen into fats causing the inflammatory process in your body.
  • Refined foods also elevate C-Reactive protein levels which will be identified by a blood test. It is an indication that there are high levels of inflammation in your body.
  • Excessive gluten consumption on the other hand not only causes inflammation of the blood vessels but also inflames your gut.

High Insulin Levels – “Are you at risk of getting diabetes?”

sugar diabetes

Glucose in the blood stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin. Excess glucose in the blood causes excess insulin secretion. As insulin’s role is to absorb and help store sugar in your blood, excess levels of insulin can drop blood sugar levels very quickly as it stores it rapidly. If blood sugar levels go down too fast, it can cause the body to crave for more sugar. But if you eat food that is too high in glucose again, it can create a vicious cycle as the blood sugar levels are never adequately balanced. If this glucose roller coaster ride goes on for months, it can have short term consequences on your mood and concentration. Long term exposure puts you at increased risk of type II diabetes. This form of diabetes means the body becomes insensitive to insulin and the excess sugar in the blood can lead to chronic inflammation of blood vessels, which in turn can lead to heart disease or other severe illnesses.

Leptin Resistance – “I always feel hungry in the night”  
 
SNACKING
 
Leptin is a hormone that is released by fat cells to give the body a feeling of ‘fullness’ or satisfaction. By feeling satisfied by the food we eat, we can avoid taking in excess food. If we lack leptin, it will make us hungry. This is the body’s mechanism to ensure we get the exact amount of energy we need.  If we ingest foods high in sugar, it interferes with leptin function and this means we can eat far more than our body needs and still not feel full. If we continue to eat foods high in sugars, the brain can become addicted at the same time and fail to get satisfied by the food.
 
Loss of Nutrition Reserves – “Sick and tired of being sick and tired?”
 
BEING TIRED

Your body needs essential nutrients from your food in order to metabolise sugar. Refined foods are of very low nutritional value so the body is unable to properly control and regulate sugar metabolism. Your body still has to obtain these nutrients from other sources, causing a depletion in your nutritional reserves making you feel tired.

Brain function – “Something’s not right”

EATING CHOCOLATE

Glucose rollercoaster rides puts the brain (mood, concentration, thinking) on a roller coaster ride as well. There has been studies showing links between refined sugar consumption to hyperactivity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, irritability, reduced performance in school, juvenile delinquency, mental illnesses like schizophrenia and even increased criminal behavior.

Gastro-intestinal disorders – “I feel bloated”

Fibre content is reduced in refined complex carbs, this affects the function of the gut causing unwanted side-effects like excessive production of gas. This gas causes discomfort, bloating and flatus in many people. Digestive disorders come from constipation – difficulty to have a normal bowel movement.

Obesity – “I eat when I’m hungry and I’m hungry all the time”

Fructose is associated with increased fat deposition, which results from bad effects on hormones associated with satiety. Insulin-induced low blood sugar will specifically increase appetite and hunger for more carbohydrates, especially those with sugar content. Diet high in sugar content may cause greater appetite and increased hunger leading to obesity. Sugar is effectively addictive for the brain.

Eating in moderation is key and always consult an expert about your nutritional concerns when in doubt.

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Avoiding the Glucose Rollercoaster

Food, Geeky stuff, Lifestyle

Several types of white sugar - refined sugar and granulated suga

We are all aware that Glucose is a primary source of energy for the body. it requires no further digestion and is available in your blood. Carbohydrates (carbs) is one such food group that breaks down into glucose during digestion.

The type of carbs that you consume will determine the amount of glucose present in your blood. The Glycemic Index (GI) is one such indicator which scales from 0 to 100, telling you the glucose level in your blood. The lower the GI, the better the food is for your body during the energy conversion process. Foods rich in protein and fats usually don’t have a GI value. While they do cause an eventual increase in blood sugar level, the process is slow unlike carbs/sugars which can cause an immediate spike.

Generally, when eating high GI foods together with proteins and fats, it slows down the body’s ability to convert the sugar as quickly. Slower sugar conversion results in a lower blood sugar spike. What this means is, if you ingest a fast-absorbing protein like casein which is found in milk, even though you will increase overall sugar levels, you decrease the effect of insulin and delay excessive absorption of the sugars in your blood. This in essence lowers the GI load on your body.

GI Standard Values (GI Low- less than 55, GI High- above 70)

Most fruits, vegetables and whole wheat foods  that we consume are on the lower side, with values in the 30s and 40s. On the other higher side of the scale, potatoes rank way up in the 80s, and white bread falls in the 70s.

White Pasta vs White Bread – Both made from Refined flour

stk78768cor

Non-whole grain bread and pasta noodles both contain similar amounts of starch. Their starches are similarly composed of long chains of the simple sugar, glucose. The structure of bread allows more of the starch to be exposed to enzymes in our saliva and in our digestive tract. This greater exposure to enzymes allows more of the starch to be broken down into sugars giving white bread a higher GI value than white pasta. Effectively, both are still high on the GI value scale so moderate consumption will be recommended.

Insulin Insensitivity

The problem with ingesting foods with a high GI load over a prolonged time  can cause your body to become insensitive to a hormone called insulin. In the early stages (pre-diabetic) this can be reversible by making dietary and lifestyle changes. If no changes are made, and the person continues to eat high quantities of GI rich foods, it can lead to type II diabetes.

Know the GI but also the nutrient profile of your foods 

While a very high intake of GI rich foods should be avoided, you must remember that GI load does not measure nutritional intake. The body needs more than sugar for health and some foods while high in GI values, may have benefits that outweigh the disadvantages. Like brown rice, bananas and oats are all foods high in GI values, but they are also high in important minerals, vitamins and proteins essential for a healthy body. Balancing the benefits of reducing GI load while also making sure you get your full nutritional requirements is much more important. Portion size also plays an important role when it comes to such foods.

Much research have shown the benefits of low GI diet in weight loss, lowering the risk of diabetes and eliminating the sudden sugar rush and crashes. However, some studies have also shown no difference in hunger, satiety, or energy level after eating high- or low-GI foods. With research, the results of studies can’t necessarily be replicated and generalized for everyone but yes, for people who eat only high GI foods knowing its bad effects is a must.

Eating sensibly is the key!

healthy snacks

Everybody is unique with different metabolisms. Having said that, people’s metabolism also have different effects on blood glucose levels.  And most often, we eat foods in combinations of all different nutritional values. All we have to understand is that even if research trials have shown the benefits of low GI diets, in reality, it is best to only incorporate the knowledge rather than eliminating all high GI foods. That would be impractical and impossible.

Here are some GI values of the most commonly eaten foods.

Enjoy eating healthy and making healthy choices because what makes you feel better on the inside will show on the outside.

High-carbohydrate foods   Breakfast cereals   Fruit and fruit products   Vegetables  
White wheat bread 75 Cornflakes 81 Apple, raw 36 Potato, boiled 78
Whole wheat/whole meal bread 74 Wheat flake biscuits 69 Orange, raw 43 Potato, instant mash 87
Specialty grain bread 53 Porridge, rolled oats 55 Banana, raw 51 Potato, french fries 63
Unleavened wheat bread 70 Instant oat porridge 79 Pineapple, raw 59 Carrots, boiled 39
Wheat roti 62 Rice porridge/congee 78 Mango, raw 51 Sweet potato, boiled 63
Chapatti 52 Millet porridge 67 Watermelon, raw 76 Pumpkin, boiled 64
Corn tortilla 46 Muesli 57 Dates, raw 42 Plantain/green banana 55
White rice, boiled 73     Peaches, canned 43 Taro, boiled 53
Brown rice, boiled 68     Strawberry jam/jelly 49 Vegetable soup 48
Barley 28     Apple juice 41    
Sweet corn 52     Orange juice 50    
Spaghetti, white 49            
Spaghetti, whole meal 48            
Rice noodles 53            
Udon noodles 55            
Couscous 65            
Dairy products and alternatives   Legumes   Snack products   Sugars  
Milk, full fat 39 Chickpeas 28 Chocolate 40 Fructose 15
Milk, skim 37 Kidney beans 24 Popcorn 65 Sucrose 65
Ice cream 51 Lentils 32 Potato crisps 56 Glucose 103
Yogurt, fruit 41 Soya beans 16 Soft drink/soda 59 Honey 61
Soy milk 34     Rice crackers/crisps 87    
Rice milk 86