AUTHOR: Dr. Jason Bush
Carbohydrates, often shortened to ‘carbs’, may provoke a mixed response from health-conscious consumers. In science, ‘Carbohydrate’ is a term that encompasses many types of molecules, from giant starches and cellulose to simple sugars. Enzymes in our digestive system break down various types of carbs into simple sugars that can be absorbed in the digestive tract and transported throughout the body to be used as energy. Glucose is the body’s preferred form of energy currency.
Some diets seek to further reduce or even eliminate carbohydrate intake by increasing the consumption of foods high in protein and fat. In this case, the body is forced to make glucose from the breakdown products of other macronutrients. Glucose can be made in the liver from certain amino acids (the building blocks that make up proteins) or from glycerol (the backbone to which fatty acids are anchored in fat molecules). This pathway may also be activated when people restrict their food intake, which is appealing to those seeking to lose weight because the body begins drawing from fat reserves to produce energy.
However, diets that exclude carbohydrates may have unintended side effects that actually counteract weight loss strategies. This is because most people don’t distinguish between digestible and non-digestible carbohydrates. Also known as fiber, non-digestible carbohydrates are not converted to sugar by the body. Instead, fiber-rich foods provide a sense of fullness. And fermentable fibers, also known as prebiotics, are fermented by healthy bacteria in the colon, leading to numerous health benefits, including the production of a hormone associated with satiety.
So if you are planning on cutting carbs, read the fine print. More specifically, look at the nutritional facts label for the grams of fiber. This amount can be subtracted from the total grams of carbohydrate to determine the digestible portion. Foods high in fiber and low in digestible carbohydrates are desirable for those seeking the benefits of a low carb diet because they provide a low-calorie, appetite-suppressing option.