Another raw material essential for keeping your ‘machine’ in good running order, carbohydrates provide your organism with glucose when the glucides they contain are digested. As you may know, glucose (stored in the liver and muscles) is the fuel that enables your body to produce energy.
Your brain and muscles consume large amounts of glucose. The substance is so vital that your organism can actually produce its own glucose (using proteins and fat) if it is deprived of a sufficient quantity from outside sources, in order to ensure that your brain is constantly supplied.
Your body, being an incredibly sophisticated machine, also secretes a hormone called insulin, which constantly monitors the glucose (or sugar) levels in your blood. It also makes sure your body has enough fat stored away in case an emergency arises and more glucose is needed.
Carbohydrates, and the glucose they provide, are the primary fuel used to power your body, and the only fuel used by your brain.
The quality of the glucose you obtain from the food you eat varies. Some foods yield simple sugars (also called rapid assimilation sugars). They include:
– honey -jam
– dried fruit
– cakes, biscuits, etc.
– corn flakes and pop-corn
– soft drinks
These simple sugars, when not combined with other foods, enter your bloodstream very rapidly. The average intake of simple or rapid assimilation sugars has increased dramatically over the years, growing from 0.6 kilograms (about 1 pound) per year per person a century ago to 35 kilograms (15 pounds) per year per person today!
When your body needs energy it uses up its supply of simple sugars first. Only when the supply is exhausted does it start burning off fat.
If you ingest too many simple sugars your body will not burn off fat no matter how much exercise you do. Result? You’ll probably develop a weight problem.
Complex or slow assimilation sugars are found in:
– peas, beans, lentils, chestnuts
– grains: wheat, barley, oats, rice, rye, corn, etc.
– dried vegetables
They are also found, in the form of cellulose, in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, and in the husks of various grains.
Because they take a lot longer to digest than simple sugars, complex or slow-assimilation sugars provide your body with energy for much longer periods of time.
When your body lacks carbohydrates you lose muscle tone and an unnecessary strain is placed on your liver and kidneys. Carbohydrates should therefore be a staple of your diet: they are easily broken down and provide the calories your body needs to meet its energy requirements.
Carbohydrates like pasta and potatoes also contain starch, a complex sugar that takes a long time to reach your bloodstream. These kinds of sugars do not cause sudden changes in your blood sugar level.
Once again we may wonder at how sophisticated the human body is: a sudden increase in blood sugar triggers the release of a massive amount of insulin, which reduces the temporary overload and stores it in the form of fat.
When you eat cake or drink a sugared beverage (or alcohol) insulin faithfully performs its function, stockpiling excess sugar as fat. Result? You’re hungry or thirsty again in a very short time. Specialists call this the glycemia effect: hyperglycemia leads to the secretion of insulin which leads to hypoglycaemia.
When you fall into this pattern you continually crave sugar and inevitably consume much too much.
How much per day?
Carbohydrates should comprise 50% to 55% of your total daily calorie intake. However, it is important to remember that simple or rapid-assimilation sugars should not make up more than 10% of your daily intake.
A reasonable amount of simple sugar, in the form of cake, candy, soft drinks, etc., would be a maximum of 50 grams (about 2 ounces) per day.
An orange contains 10 grams (a third of an ounce) of simple sugar. An apple contains 18 grams (about two thirds of an ounce). But 100 grams (4 ounces) of candy contains 90 grams (3 ounces) of simple sugar, honey 75 grams (or 2.5 ounces) and ice cream 25 grams (about an ounce).
An average fruit (weighing about 150 grams), or 100 grams of bananas or 400 grams of milk all contain about 20 grams of simple sugar. In addition, many foods, like canned preserves, cooked ham, biscuits, ketchup, and even mayonnaise, contain hidden sugars.
Here are a few examples of amounts of foods that contain about 20 grams (0.75 ounces) of complex sugars: 40 grams (1.7 ounces) of bread, 100 grams (4 ounces) of potatoes, 100 grams (4 ounces) of cooked legumes, 100 grams (4 ounces) of cooked pasta or rice, 130 grams (5 ounces) of peas.
Many people think that artificial sweeteners provide a convenient solution to the problem of limiting their sugar intake. Unfortunately things aren’t that simple.
For one thing, foods marked with labels reading ‘No Sugar Added’ mean that no saccharose has been added, although the product often contains other types of simple sugars.
Products listed as containing small amounts of glucose (chocolate, biscuits, jam, soft drinks) usually contain large amounts of fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, or a mixture of all three, in addition to an artificial sweetener, and are therefore packed full of rapid-assimilation sugars.
Fructose, the kind of sugar found in fruit, contains 4 calories per gram. It is actually sweeter than sugar, so less is needed to obtain a sweet taste, which is why it is added to so many diet products, especially jams, biscuits and chocolate.
As for artificial sweeteners, there are two types:
– Alcohol-based sweeteners like sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol, etc.): they contain between 2 and 4 calories per gram, and can cause gastrointestinal problems. These sweeteners are often used in so-called ‘sugar-free’ diet products.
– Synthetic sweeteners are chemical products containing no calories. They come in a variety of forms: tablets, powder, liquid, etc. Some cannot be used for cooking, since heat makes them taste less sweet or even bitter. When used in moderate amounts they present no danger to health.
What happens when you eat too much sugar
As we explained earlier, ingesting too many simple sugars causes hyperglycemia, characterized by a sudden increase in your blood sugar level. This, in turn, triggers the release of insulin, which reduces your blood sugar level dramatically, resulting in a condition called hypoglycaemia, characterized by a lack of blood sugar. Result? You crave more sugar.
The vicious circle (hyperglycemia – insulin secretion -hypoglycaemia) causes your body to store excess amounts of fat, which is hardly compatible with good health: a minor weight problem can easily develop into chronic obesity. You should also know that children who are obese have a much harder time losing weight later on in life.
As you may know, obesity is often a cause of non-insulin dependent diabetes, and heart disease, for two reasons:
– Too much insulin makes the blood less fluid, resulting in the formation of clots that can block veins or arteries.
– An excess of body fat, and especially triglycerides, causes fatty deposits to build up in arteries, making them smaller and causing a condition known as thrombosis.
Being obese is also associated with high cholesterol levels, which aggravates existing vascular problems.
Eating too much sugar promotes fermentation in the intestines and is often a cause of food allergies.
According to some specialists, ingesting too much sugar is a factor in causing cancer of the colon or rectum.
Excess sugar in your system may cause a chromium deficiency that can result in diabetes. Your body needs chromium and Vitamin B1 to metabolize sugars. Developing a lack of either substance because you ingest too much sugar can cause a variety of health problems. A Vitamin B1 deficiency, for example, can cause problems like:
– impaired intellectual activity
– memory loss
– muscular weakness
One of the more common harmful effects of eating too much sugar is tooth decay. Many people are under the false impression that only candy or soft drinks are at fault. In fact, ingesting too much sugar from any source – bread, potatoes (especially fries), bananas, grapes, etc., have the same effect.
What happens when you lack sugar?
Depriving yourself of both simple or complex sugars because you want to lose weight is just as harmful as eating too much.
Firstly, as we said earlier, sugars represent your body’s main source of energy. A lack of sugar in your system causes physical fatigue, so that you become exhausted even after a minor effort. Your resistance to disease decreases, making you much more vulnerable to all kinds of bacterial and viral infections.
Your organism, which is continually forced to use up its reserves of fat to synthesize glucose, is under a constant strain. This has a harmful effect on your liver and kidneys, which gradually weaken and become increasingly fragile. Cerebral fatigue develops very rapidly.
Problems attributed to a lack of sugar include:
– inexplicable anxiety
– sexual aggression, especially in men
– constant yawning
– personality changes, notably an inability to make decisions
– asocial behaviour
– leg cramps
– sudden crying fits, notably in women
– nervous depression
– muscular pain
– numbing sensations
– general weakness
– general fatigue
– morning fatigue
– general discomfort
– lack of concentration
– lack of sexual drive, especially in women
– fainting spells
– phobia, fears
– constant hunger
– memory problems
– digestive problems
Persons who are desperate to lose weight or stay slim often adopt a strict, highly unbalanced diet, which drastically cuts down their intake of simple and complex sugars. These people should not be surprised if they develop a number of the symptoms listed above. In addition, severe hypoglycaemia (lack of sugar) can cause convulsions.