As of late, sugar has probably been one of the most discussed topics – the different types of sugars that exist, why some types are better than others, how much sugar should we be having in our diet and why it should be avoided and why it is thought to be so detrimental to health. Some of the reasons why sugar is considered to be bad for our health are due to the connection to diabetes, weight gain and risk of heart disease, increased risk of a fatty liver and fluctuations in energy levels.
Sugars are a form of carbohydrate which for many people is one of the main sources of energy in their diet apart from fuelling the brain for normal function. Carbohydrates can in turn be broken down into two main types; namely simple carbohydrates, otherwise known as monosaccharides or disaccharides, or complex carbohydrates also known as polysaccharides.
Simple carbohydrates include refined and processed food and drinks like sweets, fizzy drinks and fruit and complex carbohydrates include whole grains, potatoes, pulses and also fruit and vegetables.
The main difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is that complex carbohydrates take a much longer time to be broken down by the body and released into the bloodstream and thus, do not have a great impact on insulin which means that our blood sugar levels remain fairly constant when we eat complex carbohydrates.
Saying that, complex carbohydrates do need to be broken down into simple carbohydrates for them to be digested. Taking into account what we have just explained, does it mean that eating an apple is the same as eating a pack of sweets? And should we be calculating how many clocks of sugar a potato would be broken down into before being used by the body? Certainly not.
Although fruit does have a high sugar content, it also has an adequate amount of fiber which when digested together provides less of a sugar spike than a pack of sweets. Same goes for complex carbohydrates – you cannot compare a simple potato to a can of coke.
As a general guideline of how to consume carbohydrates in your diet you should try and have complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates. Think of food that looks the way it would look in a field or in its natural form; you’d be able to get a carrot, a lentil or even rice in a field but you’d never find a pack of jelly beans.
This doesn’t mean that simple sugars do not have their place in the diet. An example of that is post workout. A few swaps that you can make in your diet include eating whole fruits instead of juices or smoothies, plain yoghurt instead of flavoured yoghurt, multigrain bread instead of white bread, muesli instead of cereal or granola, use olive oil and lemon for dressings and sparkling water on lemon water instead of sweetened drinks.
Do take the above into consideration but most of all do not be afraid of carbohydrates in general. Although there are various diets that you can follow and at times you need to avoid carbohydrates due to goals you’re working towards, carbohydrates are the main source of energy in our diet so do not be afraid of them – we just need to make the right choices most times but have a piece of cake now and again.