How Carbohydrates Affect Diabetes and Heart Disease [video]

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Video Transcript
Toxic Waist: Carbohydrates

Dr. Derrick Cutting, General Practitioner: Carbohydrates are an important source of nutrition in our diet. Carbs can be divided into sugars, starches, and fiber. Sugars are simple carbohydrates easily and quickly broken down in the body to produce glucose, the molecule that we use as our body's fuel. Starches are more complex carbohydrates that contain long strings of sugar molecules.

Our bodies use enzymes to break down starches into usable glucose. As starches are more complex than sugars, it takes a bit longer to convert the nutrients into our body's fuel. Unlike sugars and starches, fiber is not broken down by the body's digestive system and does not provide any nutritional value. It is an important part of your diet, however, and it helps lower cholesterol levels as well as keeping your bowels working properly.

Glycemic load and glycemic index are tools that scientists use to calculate how much glucose a food releases and how fast it gets released. For example, watermelon has a high glycemic index (GI). Meaning, it releases glucose extremely fast--about 70% of the speed of eating pure glucose. However, it has quite a low glycemic load (GL), which tells us that a slice of watermelon wouldn't give you that much glucose.

Put the 2 scores together, and you realize that watermelon gives you a pretty quick hit of glucose, but that you'd have to eat a lot of watermelon to have much impact on your blood sugar. You can use the 2 glycemic scores to help choose the types of food you should be eating. Foods with low GI and GL scores are a better choice. Your body doesn't need to produce so much insulin to regulate your blood sugar. So there's less risk of gaining weight and developing diabetes.

You can use your understanding of carbohydrates to choose foods with a low glycemic load that won't wack up your blood glucose and stimulate a surge of insulin. Eat foods that take longer to break down into glucose and avoid adding sugar to food. There's quite enough natural sugar in most fruits and vegetables. Don't add sugar to your tea or coffee. You just don't need it. Try to eat unprocessed, fresh fruit and vegetables, as processed foods often contain added sugar. Stick to whole grains, cereals, rice, bread, and pasta where possible. Eat more beans and pulses, like lentils. Not only do they provide essential nutrients and useful fiber, they also help to keep your blood sugar on an even keel.

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