Carbohydrates and You – 4 Keys to Better Health
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. They fill the body’s energy store by providing glycogen (stored in the liver and muscles). When there’s a need for energy, glycogen is then broken down into glucose and released into the bloodstream for use by cells and muscles. Insufficient dietary intake of carbohydrates can be dangerous to your body’s metabolism. If we take in too many carbs however, our bodies will store the extra glucose as fat. So what exactly happens when we eat carbohydrates?
When carbs are consumed, the pancreas regulates the release of insulin to push glucose into the cells, liver, and muscles after a meal. The pancreas serves to keep blood glucose (blood sugar) levels constant. When regulation cannot be achieved, one of two conditions exists. In some instances, blood sugar levels remain elevated after meals – a condition known as diabetes. When blood sugar drops and stays below a normal range, this condition is known as hypoglycemia. Neither is optimal, but we do have a bit of control in preventing these conditions. Here’s how:
- Know what types of carbs you’re consuming. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a way of classifying carbohydrates by the effect they have on blood sugar. Generally, low GI foods that promote a slow and steady glycemic response are desirable (oatmeal, whole grains, etc.) While data on the Glycemic Index has yet to provide conclusive results, it has been documented that high glycemic diets (white bread, white rice, etc.) tend to increase the risk of heart disease in those who are overweight.
- Eat balanced meals. While the Glycemic Index of foods can give you a general idea of the effect they will have on blood sugar, we typically eat foods in combination with other foods. Therefore, the overall glycemic response of the meal would be more appropriate. The problem is that this can be hard to measure and it takes time. The best course of action is to make sure you balance your intake with healthy carbs (fruits, veggies, whole grains), lean meats (chicken, fish), low fat dairy, and limit empty calories such as sweets.
- Eat at regular intervals. One surefire way to cause highs and lows in your blood sugar throughout the day is by going several hours between meals. Try to eat something every 3-4 hours. It doesn’t have to be a large meal. Long periods between meals increase the chance of overeating at mealtime. Eat regularly to control hunger and maintain a temperate mood.
- Keep your weight under control. Carrying extra weight increases the odds of having health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. But even a very modest reduction in weight can greatly improve your health. Those who are overweight or obese should take part in regular physical activity (such as walking) and eat healthy foods to begin gradual but steady weight loss.