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Diet & Nutrition > Foods > Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an important source of nutrition

We use carbohydrates for energy and they are contained in many of our staple foods which are principally; fruits, grains and root vegetables and the most common carbohydrate element of these foods is starch.

Carbohydrates are the fuel for our bodies and are derived from foods that are high in carbohydrates or starch like rice or potatoes.

  • They enable our bodies to function and perform respiration, reproduction, mobility, circulation and nerve signal transmission.
  • They provide our body the required energy for the skeleton, muscles and central nervous system (including brain and spinal cord).
  • They enable the performance and function of our brain which in particular depends on carbohydrates for functions like learning, thought process, thinking etc. These cannot be performed without a continuous supply of glucose from the blood.


Within our digestive tract, carbohydrates (starches) are broken down into simple sugars which are then converted into energy. This fuels our activities and helps us to keep warm in cooler climates.

Within healing

arbs may be minimised to avoid overloading the body, or increased to provide the body with the energy to heal. In health recovery, complex carbohydrates are important, they are broken down into glucose, insulin helps the glucose enter the muscles / tissues’ cells which helps our body function. But excess carbs can cause problems especially when eaten with meats and other proteins. This creates a propensity for a sluggish digestive system, mental and emotional depression.

When carbs are eaten, any excess energy (as glucose) is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for future use. But when there is too much excess for the liver to store, any additional / remaining glucose is stored in the body as “fat” which further undermines our health. When we are ill, your medical practitioner will advise if you need a high or low cab diet to assist your recovery

Simple or complex carbohydrates?

Nutritionists often refer to carbohydrates as either simple or complex which some find to be ambiguous, but ambiguity is confusion between processed and unprocessed foods which makes it simple to understand.

Holistically, complex carbohydrates are unprocessed whole foods.  Grains may have the outer hull removed, but still contain the inner hull, so for example, polished white rice is considered to be nutritionally inferior to brown (un-hulled rice).  They are both complex carbohydrates, but white rice is simplified and could be classified as a simple carbohydrate. A scale for complex to simple:

  1. Good complex carbohydrates are unprocessed; brown rice, buckwheat, millet, potatoes, fruits, acorns, amaranth, arrowroot, arracacha, bananas, barley, breadfruit, buckwheat, canna, colacasia, katakuri, kudzu, malanga, millet, oats, oca, polynesian arrowroot, sago, quinoa, sorghum, sweet potatoes, potatoes, rye, taro, cassava, chestnuts, water chestnuts, yams, and many kinds of beans, such as favas, lentils,  sweet corn and maize, peas and chickpeas.
  2. White rice, pasta, breads, tortilla, pastas, beans and cereals are all carbohydrates of reduced complexity as some nutritional balance has been lost in processing or the removal of some elements.
  3. Sweets, sugar, honey, soft drinks and processed foods are all simple carbohydrates.
  4. Indigestible fibre which cleanses our digestive tract.

Types of carbohydrates

  1. Complex carbohydrates (starch): Complex carbohydrates require a little more chewing and they take longer to break down in the digestive tract.  These carbs are digested and broken down slowly into simpler sugars and take more time to enter the blood circulation and provide a slow release of energy over the day.  They contain a high volume of fibre which helps to keep the digestive tract healthy and are most suited as part of a staple diet for human beings.
    • This process provides long term energy for all our activities and after eating, these complex carbs provide a sense of fullness and satisfaction.
    • These carbs consist of more than two sugar units. They have a more complex structure and hence, take more time to be digested and absorbed into the blood. For the same reason, they cause only an average increase in insulin secretion which results in stabilization of appetite and only a few carbs are stored as a fat.
    • They also have plenty of vitamins, fiber and minerals which is essential for health and growth.Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and soybeans contain complex carbohydrates but also have plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
    • Examples: Unrefined or ‘whole grain’ carbohydrates commonly found in whole grain pasta, brown rice and bran cereals whole wheat, oats, barley and unrefined bread.
    • These complex carbohydrates. However, they also contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
    • Vegetables contain variable amounts of both simple and complex types of carbohydrates and several nutrients e.g. vitamins, minerals and are also a great source of fiber, and water. -
  2. Simplified carbohydrates like white rice, breads and cereals are an in-between, okay in moderation but not to be relied on and are most suited as an occasional addition to our diet. -
  3. Simple carbohydrates (sugars): These carbs are made up of one or two sugar units that are broken down and absorbed quickly into the blood circulation. Simple carbohydrates like sugar undermine human health and should be mostly avoided.  Sugars don't require much digestion and people love this as there is an instant high or burst of energy, especially when taken with caffeine.  A diet based on simple carbohydrates undermines human health and prepares the body for all the degenerative diseases.
    • Excess sugar short-cuts part of the digestive process and modern studies have shown that some of the food belonging to simple carbohydrate group can actually cause an acute increase in blood glucose levels which naturally results in more insulin release from pancreas. This eventually results in enhanced appetite and more risk of fat storage which over time can lead to diabetes and other degenerative diseases.
    • Examples: Sugar, candies, honey, syrups, candy, honey, jams, jellies, molasses, juices and soft drinks all contain simple carbohydrates that are injurious to our health.
    • Note that while fruits primarily have simple carbohydrates, they are also enriched in valuable vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.  These do not pose any risk to weight gain and are vital for our health. -
  4. Indigestible carbohydrates (fiber). They cannot be broken down by the body into smaller units for absorption and hence are not an energy source for the cells. However, they are a good source of health especially with respect to their role in promoting better digestion of other foods. They also prevent us from constipation.

It is clear from the above discussion that not all carbohydrates are equal and each type has its own structure, function and role in the body. Therefore, making a wise carbohydrate food choice is essential and should be done in the light of your fitness goal i.e. longevity, weight loss, muscle building or just maintaining your fitness.

The role of insulin:

Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by pancreas, a digestive gland. The main role if insulin is that it controls the blood sugar (glucose) levels in our blood. Once all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, insulin helps the glucose enter the muscles / tissues’ cells.  The remaining glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles for future use (this is the same glucose that we use during our exercise / workouts). Any additional / remaining glucose is stored in the body as “fat”.

A diet low in carbohydrates may make us fee lethargic and tired or cause temporary weight loss.  However, this temporary weight loss is not without some serious health risks. This presents a serious diet dilemma for some of what one should do while selecting carbohydrates to include in your diet.



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