I last wrote about carbohydrates and how they're used in the body. I separated them into two groups: complex and simple. I did this to make it a little easier to understand the two, but I wanted to further clarify some things to give more of a proper education of carbohydrates. For this article, I will briefly explain carbohydrates in three groups as complex, simple, and refined.
Complex carbohydrates are whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. As explained in the last article, these carbohydrates take a longer time to process into glucose. Eating these foods leaves us fuller, more satisfied, and gives us on going energy as we process them for hours.
Simple carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are broken down very quickly and supply energy almost immediately. Fruits and vegetables fall into this category. Sweeteners, flours, and pastries also fall into this category, which I believe causes confusion and leaves people thinking that certain fruits and vegetables contribute to triglycerides and blood sugar problems the same way a can of soda does. That idea comes from looking at carbohydrates as either simple or complex. It does not include refined carbohydrates, which can be made from either simple or complex.
Refined carbohydrates are those that are processed to isolate the sugar molecules, or drastically alter the carbohydrate by removing it from the whole food. They are made from, both, simple and complex carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are not found in nature. They are all sweeteners (except for raw honey), flour products, and alcoholic beverages. The complex carbohydrates, like grains, are used to make refined carbohydrates like beer, barley malt, and white flour. The simple carbohydrates, like fruits and other plants, are used to make fructose, fruit juice-sweetened products, and agave nectar.
Even though a refined carbohydrate delivers energy like a simple carbohydrate, the two are still drastically different. The simple carbohydrate has fiber, vitamins, minerals and, also in the case of raw honey, active enzymes to help process the carbohydrates. The fiber is especially important because it slowly releases glucose from the small intestine (where starches are processed) into the hepatic vein and into the liver for storage. Refined carbohydrates are like loose canons. They have little fiber, next to no nutrition, and deliver only pure glucose. They actually rely on our mineral and enzyme stores to digest themselves. It is no wonder why sugar is referred to as a "nutritional vacuum".
The best way to categorize carbohydrates as "good" or "bad" is by looking at them as "whole" or "refined". This rule can also be, and should be, applied to all food. Eat your food as close as it's found in nature. Eat fruits and vegetables with the skins and grains with the bran so you get adequate fiber, minerals, and vitamins. The wholeness of the food is really the intelligence of the food. If you take away part of a food the body will not be able to process its nutrients as easily and effectively. A plant-based diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds will assure you a great mix of complex and simple carbohydrates to keep your glucose stores adequately full, while leaving less of a strain on your liver and pancreas.