Slow Carbs For A Low Carb Diet
What is a carbohydrate? A carbohydrate is made up of sugar molecules. One sugar molecule is a simple carbohydrate, whereas any combination of three or more joined together is considered a complex carbohydrate. Any sugar, starch, or fiber is considered a carbohydrate. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into their constituent sugar molecules, mostly glucose, which then are absorbed into the blood stream. Glucose, a simple sugar, is the main source of cellular energy.
For a while, people thought that eating carbohydrates contributed to being overweight, and many people were using "low carb" diets to lose weight. However, it turns out that the bigger picture isn't quite so simple. Turns out, what you should be aiming for isn't "low carb" but "slow carb."
What Are Slow Carbs?
Not all carbs are absorbed by your body at the same rate. Generally, the more complex the chain of sugar molecules making up a carbohydrate, the harder it is for your body to break it down. Some, such as soluble and insoluble fibers, pass through the intestines completely undigested, since the body doesn't have the appropriate enzymes to break them down. The sugars from fast carbs that get absorbed quickly from the digestive tract can cause a spike in blood sugar, as can very big meals. High levels of circulating sugar put stress on the system and can damage various organs and tissues, so when this happens, the body immediately starts producing and releasing the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for helping cells absorb glucose and getting the liver to store any excess as fat. A spike in blood sugar results in a spike in insulin. The insulin rapidly moves all the sugar out of the blood stream, and you wind up with low blood sugar. Low blood sugar makes you feel lethargic and hungry, so you're likely to reach for foods that will quickly boost your blood sugar, repeating the entire sequence over again. Eating more slow carbs can help break this vicious cycle. Slow carbs are absorbed more gradually, so blood sugar doesn't markedly increase. Instead, you get a more gradual release of energy, so you feel full and content for longer and wind up eating less. In addition, most slow carbs are also much higher in vitamins, mineral, and phytonutrients than their fast cousins.
The Glycemic Index
Obviously, eating more slow carbs is desirable. However, it can be hard to know what's a slow carb and what's a fast one. The glycemic index is a tool that lets you keep track of how fast the sugars from various carbohydrates get absorbed into your system. Foods with a glycemic index of less than fifty-five are considered low glycemic foods, and are absorbed slowly. Anything that scores between fifty-five and seventy is a medium glycemic food, and anything above seventy is a high glycemic food. Examples of low glycemic foods include avocados, mangos, whole wheat pasta, pearled barley, and many more. Generally, most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains fall into this category. White bread, rice, and most cereals fall into the high glycemic category. Many things can affect the glycemic index of a food, such as how well it's been prepared (generally, the longer something's been cooked, fried, etc. the easier it is to digest, hence, a higher glycemic rating), and its fat, fiber, and acid content, all of which lower the glycemic index of a food. Combining high glycemic foods with low glycemic foods will help even out the absorption of sugars.
How to Make a Low Glycemic Index Diet Work for You
If you're interested in beginning a low glycemic diet, first learn as much as you can about the topic; there are many resources are available online, and low glycemic cook books are becoming increasingly common. Know what foods are good and which to stay away from. Understand how different types of preparation can affect the glycemic index of a food. Learn how to combine different foods to lower their overall glycemic index. Space your meals out and eat healthy snacks in between, to help you keep your blood sugar stable.
Exercise regularly for the same reason.
And remember, the fact that a food has a low glycemic index doesn't necessarily make it healthy. Fat is a potent factor in lowering glycemic scores, so these foods might be absorbed more slowly, but they also contain unhealthy calories and might not have many nutrients. Use common sense, and compromise on nutritional value and glycemic index. Whole grain bread might have a higher glycemic index than basmati rice, but in the end, it's also healthier for you because it contains so many nutrients lacking in the rice.