What do carbohydrates do for your body? Should you avoid eating carbs altogether?
Many diets require you to cut out carbohydrates (carbs) to lose weight. But carbs play some important roles in the body, apart from providing energy. Moreover, not all carbs are villains.
Keep reading to learn what carbs do for your body.
Carbohydrates as a Macronutrient
So, what do carbs do for your body? Carbs primarily serve as our short-term energy supply. They also form important structures in our body: This includes the molecules ribose and deoxyribose, which are the building blocks of RNA and DNA, respectively.
On a molecular level, Enders explains, carbs consist of sugar molecule chains. Longer chains are harder for our body to break down and absorb into the bloodstream, whereas shorter chains are easier to digest and give us quick energy. Our gut prefers quick energy because digesting it saves time. This is why we crave carbs with short molecular chains, like sugary foods.
However, flooding the gut with quick energy has negative side effects. According to Enders, consuming too much refined sugar can cause us to gain weight because our bodies store this sugar as fatty tissue. The gut also has to work harder to stabilize itself after digesting refined sugar by producing hormones such as insulin.
On the other hand, Enders explains, eating carbs with long sugar molecule chains (like brown rice, black beans, and vegetables) forces our gut to slow down, preventing spikes in blood sugar and creating healthy, short-term energy stores.
The Connection Between Blood Sugar and Insulin
Enders doesn’t go into detail on why the gut produces insulin after we consume a lot of refined sugar in our body from carbs. She’s likely talking about the process of stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Your blood sugar level is the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. When the gut receives an easily-digestible sugar rush, this number increases rapidly. If blood sugar levels stay high, you can develop symptoms such as fatigue, stomach pain, and vomiting.
To lower your blood sugar levels, the body produces insulin. Insulin tells your cells to start consuming sugar, thereby removing it from the bloodstream. However, over time, if you eat too much sugar, your cells can stop responding to insulin. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
To prevent high blood sugar, Type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and weight gain, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your added sugar consumption to no more than six percent of your daily calories, or about six to nine teaspoons (25 to 36 grams) of added sugar per day. Added sugars refer to sugars such as honey, cane juice, and corn syrup that manufacturers add to foods during processing.
Which Carbohydrates Are Good (or Bad) for You?
While carbs with longer sugar molecule chains tend to be better for your body, this isn’t always the case. To explain why certain carbs are good or bad for your body, let’s first examine how scientists classify different types of carbohydrates.
Scientists used to classify carbohydrates into two categories based on the length of their sugar molecule chains:
- Simple carbohydrates referred to carbs with one or two sugar molecules, such as fructose and glucose.
- Complex carbohydrates referred to carbs with three or more sugar molecules, such as bread, pasta, and rice.
However, these classifications didn’t always indicate which foods are the healthiest. Many complex carbohydrates, like white bread, are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can therefore lead to health problems.
Nowadays, scientists and doctors classify carbs using the glycemic index. This index splits carbs into three groups: low, medium, and high. The lower a carb’s glycemic rating, the longer it takes for it to enter our bloodstream (and the less likely it is to cause heart problems, weight gain, and diabetes).
Low-glycemic foods such as chickpeas, broccoli, tomatoes, and apples are good for you in part because they contain fiber. Studies show that by slowing the digestion process, fiber makes you feel more full, helping to prevent weight gain. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease.
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Giulia Enders's "Gut" at Shortform .
Here's what you'll find in our full Gut summary :
- How your digestive system works and why it’s important to keep it healthy
- How tiny organisms in your intestines influence your immune system (and possibly your mood)
- What your appendix actually does