Carbohydrates now have a bad reputation. It is important to distinguish between good and bad carbohydrates. We explain which carbohydrates are good and healthy and which are actually bad and therefore unhealthy.
Good and bad carbohydrates
Nutrition societies recommend that carbohydrates cover at least half of your energy needs. Others say – especially the representatives of the low carb diet – carbohydrates are the main culprit for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and many other health problems so that carbohydrates should be avoided wherever possible or at least reduced in quantity.
The arguments of both sides are not bad – and most of the time it comes to the conclusion that it depends on the individual whether carbohydrates are good or bad for them. Because there are actually people who would benefit from low carbohydrate consumption, even if they choose the good carbohydrates and avoid the bad ones. But there are also people who only really thrive when they consume plenty of carbohydrates.
For the vast majority of people, however, it is not necessary to follow a low-carb diet. In our opinion, the question of the quality of the carbohydrates consumed is much more important than the question of whether you should consume a lot or a few carbohydrates.
Because with the good carbohydrates, the majority of people can easily strike, while the bad carbohydrates can actually make you sick sooner or later – especially if the carbohydrates are eaten in combination with plenty of fats.
Let’s take a closer look at carbohydrates and foods high in carbohydrates, their different shapes and qualities, and of course their health properties. By the end of the article, you will have a good basic understanding of carbohydrates – and you will be able to distinguish good carbohydrates from bad carbohydrates.
What are carbohydrates?
From a purely chemical point of view, carbohydrates are molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. In the field of nutrition, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins.
In addition to the macronutrients, which supply the body with energy (calories) and building materials, there are of course also micronutrients. They do not provide energy in the form of calories, but they have numerous other vital functions. This includes vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and also secondary plant substances.
The four categories
The carbohydrates can be divided into four categories:
1.Sugar: short-chain carbohydrates
Most carbohydrates that taste sweet are called sugar. There are many different types of sugar. They can be roughly divided into two main categories, namely single and double sugars:
- Simple sugars (monosaccharides): The simple sugars include z. B. glucose (grape sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), galactose (mucus sugar), or mannose, which many people now know as an alternative remedy for urinary tract infections. The slimy sugar is hardly known at all. It occurs quite frequently in nature and also directly in us humans, namely wherever we have mucous membranes – hence the name slimy sugar.
- Double sugars (disaccharides): The double sugars include z. B. sucrose (which is what household sugar is made of), lactose (milk sugar in mammals’ milk), or malt sugar (maltose). The latter arises in the human body during the digestion of starch, because the digestive enzymes first break down the starch into individual maltose molecules and only then – in a further step – into glucose, which now enters the blood and increases the blood sugar level there.
2.Multiple sugars: long-chain carbohydrates
The most important representative of the multiple sugars (polysaccharides) is starch. It is found, for example, in cereal products, potatoes, nuts, and legumes and consists of many glucose molecules that are firmly connected to one another.
Compared to the mono- and disaccharides, starch does not taste sweet. Only if you eat starchy foods such as B. chewing bread or potatoes for a long time and salivating them well, their taste become increasingly sweeter. This is because carbohydrate digestion would already begin in the mouth if the respective person were to eat slowly and chew thoroughly, which is hardly the case today when everyone is short of time.
Ptyalin, a carbohydrate-digesting enzyme, is found in saliva. The ptyalin converts the starch into shorter-chain carbohydrates. The shorter the carbohydrate chains, the sweeter they taste.
3.Dietary fiber: indigestible fiber
The fiber also belongs to the carbohydrates. Humans can barely digest fiber because they lack the right digestive enzymes. Only a few strains of bacteria that live in the large intestine of humans can use the dietary fibers and break them down into short-chain fatty acids. These, in turn, can serve as a source of energy for the intestinal wall cells, help with the regeneration of the intestinal mucosa, and are therefore also one of the most important reasons why dietary fiber is said to be so healthy for the intestine.
4.Sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol
Sugar alcohols are also counted among carbohydrates. They taste almost as sweet as sugar but lead to significantly lower secretion of insulin than sugar. The sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, or mannitol.
While “normal” carbohydrates contain 4.1 kcal per gram, sugar alcohols generally only contain 2.4 kcal per gram, which is why they are often used in diets.
Many people do not tolerate sugar alcohols well, because from an individual dose they can lead to digestive complaints such as gas, stomach ache, and diarrhea. Xylitol is life-threatening for dogs, which is why it is better not to have xylitol-containing sweets/cakes in the house if the dog likes to help itself. Other sugar alcohols apparently do not pose this risk, but of course, they should still not be given to dogs.
The great advantage of sugar alcohols for humans is that they do not have a caries-promoting effect, so the caries bacteria cannot use them as food. Xylitol, in particular, is actually considered to fight caries. However, you don’t have to eat sugar alcohol to do this. Mouthwashes with xylitol are much more useful.
The roles of carbohydrates
The main task of carbohydrates (sugar and starch) is to provide energy. Most carbohydrates – whether from fruits, bread, pasta, biscuits, or the sugar in coffee – are therefore first broken down into glucose and then burned in the cell (converted into energy). When there is no need for energy, the glucose is converted into fat and stored in the fat cells, which is why an excess of carbohydrate-rich foods can also contribute to obesity.
Dietary fiber is an exception here, see above. They hardly provide any energy because they cannot be digested. However, depending on the intestinal flora, some people – often overweight – harbor a particularly large number of intestinal bacteria from certain intestinal bacterial strains (which can metabolize fiber), so that fiber also provides additional calories for these people.
Here, building up the intestinal flora (intestinal cleansing) could help to change the composition of the intestinal flora again so that fiber is not broken down in excess and can no longer contribute to obesity.
Decide on a conscious diet
Surely you now know one or two friends, colleagues or relatives who eat a lot of bad carbohydrates and are still completely healthy. Of course, there are these people. Just like there are chain smokers and those who don’t like sports who are still in top shape at 80.
For us, however, it is not about finding those exceptions that have become ancient in unhealthy eating and living. Rather, it is about finding out how to behave to increase the chances of a happy, healthy, and above all more conscious life – and this automatically includes a consciously selected healthy diet that contains good, but preferably no bad carbohydrates should.
As part of a wholesome diet that is as natural as possible, you can then – depending on your wishes and personal needs – reduce your carbohydrate content.