Carbohydrate Diet is the typical diet that is followed by most of us in our daily lives for the simple purpose of providing energy and sustaining everyday activities. Carbohydrates form the predominant part of our daily food intake. As such, carbohydrates are essential not only for supplying fuel to the body but for providing a source of dietary fibre, which needs to be made an integral part of an individual’s diet for multiple health reasons. Further, carbohydrates are critical in that they have a ‘protein sparing action’. This is not a separate function, but simply re-iterates the fact that by acting as the substrate for energy production in the body, carbohydrates spare the use of proteins for this purpose, so that they are available to perform their own specific role of growth and repair in the body. In the absence of sufficient carbohydrate intake, proteins would be targeted for fuelling the body.
Chemistry of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates in foods occur most commonly as sugars, starches and fibre. Most foods have some amounts of carbohydrates- some more than others. Grains, breads, beans, milk, corn, potatoes, cookies, pastas, spaghetti all contain carbohydrates. The glucose unit forms the basic building block of any carbohydrate and is composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Starches and fibres are chains of glucose units. Simple carbohydrates include glucose, fructose or fruit sugar, lactose or milk sugar, and sucrose or table sugar. Complex carbohydrates consist of chains of varying combinations of simple sugar units linked in complex patterns. Upon ingestion, the digestive processes start breaking down the complex sugars into simpler units which finally enter the blood stream in the form of glucose the simplest single sugar molecules. It is this glucose molecule that is finally used by cells to support their functions. The standard recommendation is that about 60 % calories must be supplied through carbohydrates per day.
Role of Dietary Fibre
Dietary fibre is the carbohydrate component that is not easily broken down into glucose for absorption by cells. Thus it passes out as such undigested. Fibre occurs as (a) soluble fibre that can dissolve in water and (b) the insoluble fibre which does not. The function of fibre more than providing nourishment to the body is to promote health in other ways. In the intestine soluble fibre binds to fat and carries it out of the body as waste eliminating the bad cholesterol or LDL from the body in the process. Soluble fibre also provides satiety and also plays a significant role in regulation of blood sugar level. Insoluble fibre also promotes stool bulking, ensuring smoother bowel movements and avoiding constipation.
Features and Benefits of Carbohydrate Diet
Intake of simple and processed or refined carbohydrates translates into rapid and direct release of glucose into the bloodstream, thus elevating blood sugar levels when insulin resistance is a fundamental issue. Genetics, sedentary lifestyles, excess weight may all cause insulin resistance. Independently and as part of the metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance has been linked to Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and possibly certain cancers.
1. The “Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study” advocates reducing intake of refined carbohydrates and replacing them with more of whole grains and complex carbohydrates can help to improve insulin sensitivity.
2. For optimal health, whole wheat bread, whole wheat flours, whole grain pastas, brown rice instead of white bread, refined flours, pastas and polished white rice and others like quinoa, bulgar and whole oats would be more nutritious and afford protection against several chronic conditions.
3. Simple sugars are best avoided as they are known to raise blood sugar levels. Foods with high glycemic index such as white bread could cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. In contrast, whole oats with a lower glycemic index value tend to raise blood sugar levels gradually. Foods with Glycemic index scores of 55 or lower are defined as low glycemic index foods whereas scores of 70 or more are known as high glycemic index foods.
4. Use of foods with higher fibre foods with lower glycemic index scores would have a positive impact on blood sugar levels, cholesterol as well as body weight.
5. Legumes, pulses, beans and lentils are good sources of complex carbohydrates that also supply proteins, add to the satiety value of meals and aid in the weight loss process.
6. Newer grain varieties such as millets, barley, bulgur, quinoa among others could be included in the diet for better results.
7. Plenty of vegetables and fruits form part of the carbohydrate diet as they provide fewer calories, are higher on nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fruit sugar or fructose although a simple sugar, exerts minimal effect on blood glucose levels and hence can be used in place of calorie dense, blood glucose raising desserts like cakes, pastries, cookies etc. Meanwhile, intake of the whole fruit is suggested as against fruit juice to ensure fibre intake.
Carbohydrate Diet Menu Plan
· Breakfast: 2 slices whole wheat bread toasted + ½ cup of oat meal porridge with low-fat milk + 1 apple + sugar less black tea.
· Midmorning: 1 pear or sugar free oat cookies
· Lunch: Stir fried vegetables + brown rice + low fat yoghurt + fresh cabbage, bell pepper, asparagus salad.
· Evening Snack: Unbuttered popcorn.
· Dinner: 1 bowl of Lentil and spinach soup + whole wheat dinner roll + 3 ounce grilled herbed salmon.
Although carbohydrates are responsible for energy production in the body, the intake of all other macro and micronutrients in adequate amounts is essential. Leading an active and stress free lifestyle is important for maintaining energy and the overall feeling of wellbeing.