Nutrition, Uncategorized

Who Knew Carbohydrates Could Be So Simple – or Complex?

By Shannon Evins
Dietetic Intern

With various medications, glucose tests, and protocols to follow, diabetes can seem an overwhelming subject to master. Doctors, nurses, dietitians, and other health professionals start throwing numbers and words like carbohydrates and glucose at you and telling you what you should and should not eat. By now, most people know that carbohydrates are at the center of what affects blood sugar. To get to the root of the problem and simplify the concept, it is important to understand the different kinds of carbohydrates. They can be split into two main groups: simple or complex.

Simple carbohydrates are the things you normally think of when someone mentions high blood sugar – candy, cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, etc. They are called simple because they are easy for your body to digest and so spike your blood sugar quickly. It is best to avoid or watch the portion size of simple carbohydrates. Here are some other simple carbohydrates that people often overlook although they have the same effect as table sugar on your body: brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, jams/jellies, fruit juice, and soda.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer to break down which means a slower release of energy and less of a spike in your blood sugar. They also often have a higher content of fiber and nutrients, so everyone, not just people with diabetes, should focus on eating complex carbohydrates. Common complex carbohydrates include whole-grain items (whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, etc.), corn, beans, lentils, peas, potatoes, winter squashes or pumpkin, and whole fruits.

To better understand the concept of simple versus complex carbohydrates, let’s go back to the days of arts and crafts and imagine carbohydrates this way: say you have some beads and string and want to make a necklace. You have to add the beads one-by-one to the string in order to make the necklace. Each bead represents a sugar molecule. Simple carbohydrates are the equivalent of just two beads on that string. It would take you no time at all to add those beads to the string. Complex carbohydrates, however, have several more beads on the string, meaning it would take longer to put together. Similarly, your body is doing this for digestion but in reverse – each bead is being removed from the string, meaning each sugar molecule is being broken down and digested. It takes only a short amount of time for your body to digest two molecules versus several.

Overall, carbohydrates are very important for bodily functions because they are the main fuel source for your body. Just remember that it is best to eat them as part of a balanced meal with a fat or protein source and vegetables in order to stabilize blood sugar. Simple (or complex) enough?

(Post content reviewed by MGH Department of Nutrition and Food Services)
Health, Nutrition

Nutrition Myths

By Debra Hollon, MS, RD, CDE, LDN
Senior Clinical Nutritionist

This is the first post in a series on health and wellness myths. Explore the article below to lean more about 5 common nutrition MYTVegetables falling into basketHS.

If you’re dieting, fruit juice is better than soda—Soft drinks have been criticized for containing a large amount of sugar per serving, while fruit juices are regarded as a healthier alternative. Fruit juices often do contain more vitamins than soda, but they also have large amounts of fructose—a natural sugar found in fruit. One 16oz bottle of fruit juice contains the same amount of sugar/carbohydrates as 4 medium pieces of fruit. For a healthy beverage choice, water is a better option.

All fats are bad—With all the media attention on the connection between fat and heart disease and obesity, it’s easy to believe a healthy diet shouldn’t include any fat. The truth is we need some fat in our diet: fats help our bodies absorb nutrients such as Vitamins A and E, build cell membranes and give you a sense of satiety—that “full” feeling you get after eating. But not all fats are the same: saturated fat, found in many meat and dairy products, has been shown to raise cholesterol while unsaturated fats like Omega 3’s are known to promote heart health. For a healthy diet, try to limit saturated fats and/or replace them with the healthier unsaturated fats from fish and nuts.

Brown sugar is better than white sugar—Brown rice is a better nutritional choice than white rice, and whole wheat bread is a better option than white. Brown sugar, therefore, must be better than white sugar, right?  Whole grains are a good source of fiber, Vitamin E, iron, B Vitamins and a number of other nutrients, many of which are lost when whole grains are processed into white bread and white rice. Brown sugar, meanwhile, is regular white sugar with a little molasses added in and has roughly the same nutritional value as plain white sugar. In other words, choosing brown sugar over white sugar is not the same thing as choosing 100% whole wheat bread over white bread.

Avoid carbohydrate to lose weight—There are a number of popular fad diets out there that advise limiting carbohydrate in your diet in order to lose weight. The weight loss achieved through these diets can be dramatic, but it’s not necessarily because of the limited carbohydrate intake—many of these diets also limit the number of calories consumed as well. Losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you consume. Exercise along with a well-balanced diet that includes lean protein, whole grains, dairy, and fruits and veggies and is low in saturated fat will work just as well.

Calories eaten late at night turn to fat—This one does have a small kernel of truth: calories you don’t burn in a day are stored in your body as fat. However, the time of day you consume calories doesn’t matter; if your body can’t use them for immediate energy, they’ll be converted to fat regardless of what time of day you eat.