On the train today I saw the following ad that said "Six weeks to OMG: Get Skinner Than All Of Your Friends!". Besides promoting black coffee and skipping breakfast as a weight loss aid, I found the following statement absolutely ridiculous. It stated that "Broccoli carbs can be worse than soda carbs". That statement inspired me to write about carbohydrates.
To understand carbohydrates we must first identify the two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole foods like fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables like broccoli. Simple, or refined, carbohydrates are found in processed foods like potato chips, white rice, bread products, most flours, and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup found in snacks and sodas.
It's very important to understand that not all carbohydrates are the same, or bad for you. The body processes carbohydrates into glucose, which is a vital energy/food source for our cells and brains. We cannot live without it. Complex carbohydrates take time to break down and digest. Our bodies slowly turns them into glucose which is then carried to the cells by the pancreatic hormone insulin. Any excess glucose is stored in the liver, and muscles, as glycogen. The liver will release the glycogen stores when our blood sugars drop and the cells need more energy. Our muscles hold onto their glycogen stores for times of emergency when food is not available. Intense aerobic exercise like biking, running, and swimming will usually depend on muscle glycogen stores for energy within 45 minutes into the exercise. Fasting will also deplete glycogen stores after the first day or so. Complex carbohydrates deliver long lasting energy throughout the day because they breakdown into glucose so slowly. The body is able to store them because they breakdown so slowly, and storing them means less of a blood sugar spike and less insulin production. This makes the pancreas very happy!
Simple, refined carbohydrates react completely different. Unlike complex carbohydrates, these simple carbs immediately flood the body with glucose, delivering a surge of energy. We immediately feel satisfied and energized, but the quick spike in blood sugar assures an even quicker drop in blood sugar, which leaves us craving more energy, creating carb addiction. That surge of energy also sends the body into a state of emergency. Our blood sugar dramatically increases and the pancreas must make a lot of insulin to help carry the glucose to the body's cells. Think of insulin like a taxi cab and glucose as fire wood. Our cells have little "wood burning stoves" called mitochondria. When our bodies breakdown carbohydrates into glucose, the insulin taxi is sent out to take it to the cell's "front door". They knock on the door, the door opens, the glucose is thrown in, and the cell begins to burn it for its energy needs. When the body is flooded with too much glucose the cells stop answering the front door. This is called insulin resistance. The cells are resisting the insulin because more is being delivered than needed. Excess blood sugar then sits in the blood. Some of the extra energy is stored as fat in the form of triglycerides. When triglycerides form in the arterial walls, our liver must produce excess cholesterol to go clean it up. Eventually, after many years of doing this to the body, our pancreas stop making the insulin we need and we become diabetic. How much sugar is too much for the pancreas? Only eight measly grams, or two teaspoons. You can see how it's so easy to become insulin resistant, and diabetic in today's modern, refined foods world. Refined carbs like high fructose corn syrup in sodas are even worse because they have no fat or protein to bind to and slowly release from. They are liquid, instant, and deadly.
I could write about sugar all day, and I will very soon, but for now I want to help you see the vast differences between complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. In review, complex carbohydrates are only found in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains. Our bodies process these easily, slowly, and store the glucose in the liver and muscle for further use. These complex carbohydrates range from low-glycemic to virtually "no-glycemic". They are safe for our blood sugar levels, easy on the pancreas, and deliver many nutrients along with glucose. Refined, simple carbohydrates are found in processed foods like flours, breads, pastries, pastas, potato chips, and sweeteners. These simple carbs wreak havoc on the pancreas, increase our triglycerides which increase our cholesterol levels, they contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes, supply only a short surge of energy, and are highly addictive.
It should be easy to see that broccoli carbs can NOT, in any way, be worse than soda carbs.