Basic Carb Info

Carbs are usually classified as simple or complex based on the length of their molecular chains. But in real life we tend to think of them more as sugar, juice, bread (whole grain vs. refined), potatoes etc.

Some of the things you want to keep in mind when considering which carbs you want to eat (or are already eating) are the nutrient density and it’s effect on your metabolism.  Usually the glycemic index(GI) is used even though the insulin index  is supposed to reflect the actual rise in insulin.  The glycemic index is basically a scale that gives you an idea of how fast a food will raise your blood sugar relative to straight glucose (GI=100).

This is important because your blood sugar is the signal for fatigue, hunger and INSULIN.  The more stable the level, the more stable these sensations.  Sudden changes in blood sugar cause sudden changes in insulin secretions i.e. spikes.  Insulin is the main hormone responsible for pushing glycogen into muscle and fat cells.  In muscle, the glycogen stores are replenished and in fat cells the glycogen is stored as lipids.  This process, when it happens in the environment of an insulin spike, inhibits the release of glycogen and encourages the conversion to fat.  This is why you would want to eat foods that keep your insulin from spiking, causing you to: feel tired, maybe sleepy, later on -hungrier and the whole time saving fat.  Hence the use of the GI.

Normal blood sugar levels range from ~70-120ml/100ml.  Your body functions pretty well when it has enough energy to do what you want it to do.  This ‘normal’ level of blood sugar is what those numbers are supposed to be.  Too high and you’re causing problems in a variety of organs- when it stays high we’re talking diabetic.  Too low and you’re hungry and tired.  Just right’s just right.

Now please understand that this is just a simple explanation. We can go into far more detail than necessary, but I just want to give you an overview of why some of this information is important, especially when it comes to choosing what to eat.  You don’t need to remember all the numbers,  but you do want to be able to make an intelligent choice and the numbers can help.

So far we’ve just mentioned the GI, but it isn’t the only figure that counts.  How your body actually responds to a food also matters and this is the idea behind the Glycemic load (GL) index.  Some foods, though they have a hi GI don’t trigger that insulin spike we just discussed: and some foods with low GI do.  This is because the amount of carbs you eat matters as much as how many of them you eat.  Who eats 1 potato chip?

The formula is GL=GI/100 x net carbs       
What this tells us, essentially, is the load on our body is a product of one piece of food times how many pieces of that food we ate.  Again, don’t worry so much about doing math every time you eat, do it once for what you eat the most and go from there.  Besides, there isn’t a GI number for everything you eat yet.  These figures are just to give you an idea, a scale to go by.  GI values are averages, vary with ripeness, cooking methods, and the foods you eat in combination with each other.  It also doesn’t consider whether you just finished working out or if you just woke up from a nap.  Your body is equipped to recover as soon as possible from stress (but it can still take awhile!).  That means the best time to put carbs to use in muscle rather than fat is right after working out.   Studies show  that a dilute carb solution when taken after exercise can increase the rate of glucose recovery significantly more than if you wait.

In general, the more a food is cooked or processed, the more likely it’s GI will increase.  Fiber is one of the primary stabilizers, if you would, of food.  This means the more you destroy the fiber content the faster food tends to get absorbed - again, we’re speaking in general terms.  Even though some vegetables have a hi GI, they are actually still low in carb content.  Also, the kind of fiber, soluble or insoluble, affects how fast a food gets digested.  Soluble fiber physically gets in the way and has to be worked around before nutrients can be extracted because it tends to stick to food, i.e. oatmeal and fruits.  Insoluble fiber sort gets out of the way (unless it encases the food like the bran on some whole grains) and the nutrients are processed quicker - that’s why the difference between some ground whole grain products and their counterparts isn’t so great, but the difference between a potato skin and the potato is. 

Oh yeah, don’t forget pasta is dough.  That means it’s made from flour. Many products made from flour such as cakes and pastries, have high GI’s and are nutrient thin. However, pasta and noodles are starches mixed with gluten and therefore tend to have lower GI values.  The problem is that people tend to eat mucho pasta at one time.

Everyone has an  idea of how much of your diet should be composed of carbs.  The recent resurgence of the lo carb approach has gained quite a following and with good reason - people lose weight.  The previously popular recommendations of ~60 % seemed to coincide with the increase in the average weight and associated problems that go along with it.  Looking at the things just discussed, it’s easy to see that a low carb diet keeps insulin at bay and that alone helps to keep fat storage down.  Of course, other factors have to be considered, so we’ll consider them, but later.

So all in all:

Eat your carbs in forms that have fiber-i.e.. fruits and vegetables (but now you know another reason why). 
Don’t over cook food so you can keep more of it’s fibrous nature and vitamin content.
Your body still needs glucose (carbs) to start the metabolic process of burning fat, but some times are better than others to consume them. 
Don’t eat too much at one time-avoid the spike.
Still eat some favorites - just make sure it’s not taking the spotlight from good sense.
Some foods have a low GI but it could be because they’re hi in protein... or fat.
Mix your pasta and noodles with vegetables (hint -fiber) and protein. These will take up space normally consumed by more pasta.

Yeah... it’s simple.  What follows is just a chart of various foods with their approximate weight for a serving.  Look through this on a regular basis to get an idea of how much a serving is vs how much you eat at any given time.