“Too much of anything is bad for you, son!” You probably still hear this ringing loudly among the many memorable quotes from your grandma. She wanted you well-fed whenever you came visiting, but you knew never to cross whatever lines she drew in the sand. There's plenty of controversy around what we eat, and naturally, carbohydrates take more heat than they deserve.
Why are refined carbs bad for you? Refined carbs sit higher on the glycemic index, quickly elevating your blood sugar and causing undue inflammation.
More than half of our calories come from carbs, but there are seemingly valid suggestions that they cause type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other health anomalies. There's also plenty of concern about refined carbs, which may be lethal to your physiology. Let's explore the world of carbs and see where refined carbs fit in our overall diet.
What are Carbs?
A great place to begin is to understand what carbs are. Their formal name is “carbohydrates,” something you may recall from your early learning science class about food nutrients. Every food you eat supplies one or more nutrients to your body.
Carbs are one of the three macronutrients (major nutrients). Protein and fat are the other two. Dietary carbohydrates fall into three major groups:
- Starches, and
These are the [mostly] sweet, short-chain carbohydrates present in foods. They include fructose, galactose, glucose, and sucrose, and glucose is, by far, the most popular.
These consist of long-chain molecules of glucose. When you eat starchy foods, your digestive system breaks them down into single units of glucose.
There's also fiber, which, surprisingly, humans cannot digest. But the digestive system bacteria can utilize it.
Why Do We Need Carbs?
The primary purpose of carbs in a diet is to provide energy. That’s the reason carbs are a staple in many countries. The body either transforms or breaks down most carbs into glucose to generate energy. It also stores carbs later use by turning them into fat.
Even fiber provides energy, though not directly. It feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut. The bacteria make fatty acids from the fiber, which cells can use as energy.
It’s crucial to know that there are sweet-tasting sugar alcohols that provide some calories (not much), but are called carbohydrates.
Should You Use “Whole” Carbs or “Refined” Carbs?
What we’ve learned so far is not all there is to know about carbs. There are carbs, and there are carbs. The diverse world of carbohydrates offers many different foods with an equally diverse range of health effects.
It’s convenient to describe carbs as simple (glucose) or complex (starch). However, a more relevant classification is to use the terms “whole” and “refined.”
Where there's zero processing, and the natural fibers remain in the food, it results in whole carbs. Whole carbs offer many health benefits. Common examples include legumes, potatoes, whole fruit, whole grains, and vegetables.
Refined carbs sit on the opposite end of the spectrum from whole carbs. They endure rigorous rounds of processing, along with the extraction of the natural fiber. You’ve had natural fiber for breakfast if you had any fruit juices, pastries, or sugar-sweetened beverages. Other examples are white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Refined carbs are commonplace. In household diets
Tying it All Together
We’ve given a concise definition of what refined carbs are. In reality, however, it’s more practical to define unrefined carbohydrates. By itself, the term is quite confusing.
The entirety of sugars and starches, excluding those present as whole natural food such as sweet potato or a piece of fruit or some beans, are refined carbohydrates.
However, sweet or starchy whole food that you take as is from nature is unrefined or whole. Refined carbs (sugars and starches) do not exist in nature. Their source is natural whole foods that reach refinement through processing.
Concentration, enzymatic transformation, industrial extraction, and purification are all methods of processing.
An In-depth Look at Refined Grains
Whole grains, as we know them, are complete seeds or kernels and retaining their natural outer bran coating. Breaking the grain during processing refines it to some extent. The particles are tinier if processing grinds the grain more finely.
Processing methods go a long way to determine what people consider to be a refined grain. Grinding with a stone produces large, coarse particles, while large-scale industrial refining yields dust-fine powders with most other nutrients and all the fiber removed.
Cracked kernel grains and coarse stone-ground grain meals are much less refined. However, softer, powdered grains, including flours and starches such as corn starch, are highly refined. Smaller particles make for easier digestion, meaning it’s easier for your blood sugar to rise after eating them.
There are methods of processing grain that involve no grinding at all. These include extrusion, high-heat treatment, and polishing. These processes crush or remove the bran coating of grains, allowing the grains to cook faster and make the internal starches easier to digest.
How Dangerous Can Refined Carbs Be?
The growing concern over the health implications of refined carbs is not without reason. There is evidence from studies indicating that consuming refined carbohydrates improves the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other health issues.
The Carbohydrate Hypothesis of Disease
The carbohydrate hypothesis of disease suggests that most of the civilization's diseases come from our "Western" diet and that the chief culprit is refined carb.
Refined carbs trigger unsafe critical spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to an inevitable crash, causing hunger. Worse, it'll increase cravings for more high-carb foods. You may know this as the "blood sugar roller coaster," a common condition in many people.
Refined carbs lack critical nutrients your body needs
While they offer carbohydrates, refined carb foods are often lacking in critical nutrients, meaning they are “empty” calories. Many chronic diseases result from the added sugars in many of these dietary elements.
Refined carbs cause overeating
Refined foods are often low in fiber, as we've pointed out. Such foods digest easily and quickly, causing significant swings in blood sugar levels. One possible fallout of this physiologic impact is overeating.
The mechanism is simple: foods high on the glycemic index make you full for only a short while (probably an hour). However, foods low on the glycemic index ensure you’re fuller for longer (around two to three hours).
Blood sugar levels dip one to two hours after a high-in-refined-carb meal. Therefore, you feel hungry, and there is a stimulation of the portions of your brain responsible for reward and craving.
Refined carbs deprive you of a toned belly
Extensive studies indicate that refined carbs contribute to increased belly fat over five years.
Refined carbs promote inflammation
Another fallout of indulging refined carbs is the risk of inflammation to the body. Various experts suggest this may be one of the dietary causes of obesity and leptin resistance.
Refined carbs promote triglyceride production
Blood triglyceride levels improve with eating refined carbs. This risk factor is present for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A Chinese study showed that refined carbs make up more than 85 percent of the total carbohydrate intake, especially refined wheat products and white rice.
According to the same study, people who ate the most refined carbs improved their propensity for heart disease by 200 – 300 percent.
Refined carbs may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease
There is extensive material on the role of refined carbs in Alzheimer’s disease.
Refined carbs can influence mood and general psychology
Investigators have also found that food can impact mood. A notable example is how refined carbs can cause anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep problems.
Refined carbs may promote acne and ADHD
The link between sugar and ADHD is becoming increasingly apparent, too, while refined carbs are proven to provide a soft landing for acne.
Other possible conditions that may result from obesity due to refined sugars include asthma, chronic back pain, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and stroke.
What’s the Viable Alternative to Refined Carbs?
Carbohydrates are essential in the diet, and it's pointless to abstain from them entirely because refined carbs come with a bad rap. Instead, relying on whole food options as carbohydrate sources proves to be a healthier option. You get an excellent complement of nutrients and fiber while ensuring minimal peaking and dipping of blood sugar levels.
Consuming high-fiber carbohydrates, such as fruits, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, improves metabolic health and lowers the risk of disease.
Any attempts to eliminate all sugar and empty calories from the diet are not realistic. Every individual needs between 200 and 300 grams of carbohydrates daily. Yet, it's essential to pick your carbs wisely. Refined carbs will hurt your health more ways than you may realize. These carbohydrates have a profound impact on the individual’s blood sugar.
But, it’s possible to track your carb intake through the use of a glycemic index tool. Complex carbs or whole carbs have a lower glycemic index, making them safe. Refined foods offer lower nutritional value and notch higher points on the glycemic index. As much as possible, eat whole carbs for the all-round benefits they provide. And, remember grandma’s words: don’t have too much of any.