Part 2 of a 3 part series on conquering carbohydrates, today, we focus on Complex Carbohydrates: where they’ve fit into diets and dietary conversations.
Last week, we covered Carbohydrate conversational history, and Simple Carbohydrates: Saccharides / Sugar.
Chaining two saccharides together creates a slightly more complex type of carbohydrate called a DIsaccharide. Three of the most common disaccharides are Sucrose, Maltose, and Lactose, all formed with a different combination of monosaccharides:
Disaccharide Monosaccharide + Monosaccharide
Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose
Maltose = Glucose + Glucose
Lactose = Glucose + Galactose
Sucrose naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables and is highly concentrated in cane sugar and sugar beets.
It is also common table sugar.
NOTE: Some canned fruit and vegetable products will also ADD refined sugar (like high fructose corn syrup and common table sugar) to the processed food, to sweeten the flavor. You need to be careful of the extra sugar and extra calories.
I also learned this week, courtesy of Breakfast Club Guest Speaker Steve Zeller of Waconia’s Parley Lake Winery that Winemakers sometimes add sucrose to highly acidic wines to improve palitability.
Stringing 3 saccharides together creates, you guessed it, a trisaccharide, while 4 or more saccharides builds a polysaccharide.
And this is where things get really interesting … and controversial.
Three of the most common polysaccharide carbohydrates are Starch, Glycogen, and Cellulose.
Starch is insoluble in water and must be digested by animals. It is a glucose reserve for plants (excess plant glucose is converted to starch). Rice, wheat, and corn are common sources of starch in the human diet.
Glycogen is a reserved form of glucose for animals (not too unlike how starch is a glucose reserve for plants). It is manufactured by the liver and is stored in the liver and muscle tissues. It must be converted back to glucose to be used as an energy source.
Cellulose is produced by and forms the primary structure of plants. While technically a polysaccharide carbohydrate like Starch and Glycogen, the cellulose molecular structure makes it indigestible by mammals. It is therefore considered fiber, and not really an energy source.
Complex vs. Simple Carbs
If you’re observing the carbohydrate reduction battles, these complex carbohydrates are exactly the carbs that tend to be under the most scrutiny.
The easiest way to separate Simple Carbohydrates from Complex carbohydrates is to identify Starch. Complex Carbohydrates will almost universally contain Starch.
Fruits and Vegetables do not; they consist primarily of water, cellulose (fiber), and fructose.
Complex carbohydrates are then primarily carbohydrates with a starch element. These include most of the grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice, and corn), some roots (potatoes, yams, turnips), and some legumes (beans). Most also have significant cellulose content making them high in fiber.
Low and No Carb Diets
While extremely low carb diets like Atkins eliminates nearly all carbohydrates, mono and disaccarides included, some diets, like South Beach allow for most monosaccarhide and disaccaride carbs, but banish the more complex ploysaccarides.
The big difference in these two approaches is that the carbohydrate threshold below which an Atkins style diet places your body in what’s called a state of ketosis whereby glycogen stores are depleted, requiring that energy comes entirely from the metabolism of fatty acids.
Most of the medical community considers this a highly risky and potentially life-threatening taxation on the liver.
Ketosis risks notwithstanding, another at least as significant problem with many low/no carb diets is micronutrient deprivation. Despite the phenomenal products from many supplement providers, matching natural food vitamin and mineral content is extremely difficult. Missing out on all of these in the absense of a saccharide smart diet is simply not a healthy, long term way to provide nutrients to your body.
Net Carbohydrates are an interesting new term in the diet world whereby the diet du jour architects and food manufacturers have decided that the carbohydrate content defined by the USDA isn’t meaningful for the fibrous componentin a food product.
So, what they’ve done is created a new value: Net Carbs, defined as the total carbs in a product less the fibrous content.
In no small way, this is merely a ruse to position products in a more favorable light to carb conscious dieter.
While the Net Carb idea is somewhat honorably used to identify the energy sources relevant to body fat storage (or elimination), disregarding the fibrous (often cellulose) component in this way sidesteps several other metabolic and digestive considerations.
For one, high fiber carbohydrate products digest more slowly, and in some cases much more slowly than a low fiber food. This results in a slower, and more steadily produced stream of glucose in the blood stream … something highly significant to 25+ million Americans with diabetes.
Second, high fiber diets are healthy! They reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and heart disease, have a positive effect on cholesterol levels, and help with weight control programs by providing ‘filler’ the body often identifies as food to reduce appetite.
As a result, the Net Carbs numbers tend to do more clouding than clarifying.
In the end, your time would probably be better spent simply looking at and monitoring the sugar and fat content of a food than bothering with the net carb calculation.
In fact, as an isolated factor, you might actually choose a less healthy product on it’s net carb merits!
For instance, a serving size of McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal has 27 grams of carbohydrate. Of that, 3 g are dietary fiber, while 2 g are Insoluble fiber. Hence, the net grams of the product are:
27 – 3 – 2 = 22g.
On the flip side, a serving of General Mill’s Cocoa Puff’shas 23 total grams of carbohydrate. Of that, 1 g. is dietary fiber for total net carbs of 22g as well.
Equivalent products then? Not even close. The oatmeal has than 1 g. of sugar while the Cocoa Puffs have a whopping 13 g of sugar! Further, the serving of oatmeal includes 4 g of protein while the serving of cocoa puffs has just a meager 1 g of protein.
What’s more, the 5 g of dietary fiber in the oatmeal will give it a much lower glycemic index (tune in next week) than that low fiber General Mill’s product, something that will effect hormones in a far more influential way.
Though … from a net carb perspective … the products look equal.
Unfortunately, a desperate public blindly following the net carb lemmings may make poor, and uninformed decisions. Don’t let that be you!
Next Week: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load; Refined Grains; what to do?