By Becky Bell
Studies have shown that low-carb diets are effective for weight loss, but that doesn't mean that eating iStock
In fact, there are plenty of health benefits associated with eating carb-containing foods, but that's only if you eat the right kinds.
What Are Carbs?
There are three major classes of carbs:
- Sugars: Individual sugar molecules or short chains of sugar molecules. These include glucose, fructose, galactose and sucrose.
- Starches: Longer chains of carbohydrate molecules that need to be broken down in the digestive system.
- Fiber: Carbohydrates that the body cannot digest.
The primary function of carbs is to provide the body with energy.
Most carbs are broken down into glucose in the digestive system and provide the body with fuel to perform essential functions.
Each gram of carbs provides the body with four calories. The exception to this is fiber, which generally does not provide many calories.
Bottom Line: Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that provides the body with energy. Carbs include sugars, starches and fiber.
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
Part of the reason there is so much confusion regarding carbs is that not all carbs are created equal.
People tend to classify all carbs as either good or bad, but that doesn't make sense.
There are major differences in the health effects of different types of carbs, so they cannot all be lumped into one group.
One way that carbs are classified is by the terms "simple" and "complex." Some people define all starch and fiber as complex carbs and all sugars as simple carbs.
However, this definition can be confusing. Some starches like sweet potatoes, quinoa and legumes provide many health benefits, while other starches like refined wheat flour are associated with a myriad of health problems.
However, the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables do not have the same negative effects.
It makes more sense to define complex and simple carbs this way:
- Complex carbs: Carb-containing foods that are in their whole, unprocessed form. Foods in this category include fruits, vegetables and legumes.
- Simple carbs: Sugars and starches that have been refined and stripped of their natural fiber and nutrients.
Bottom Line: Complex carbs are healthy, whole foods in their unprocessed form. Simple carbs are refined grains and sugars that have very little nutritional value.
Complex Carbs Are Highly Nutritious, but Simple Carbs Are Not
Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes are highly nutritious foods that are rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
On the contrary, simple carbs contain "empty" calories, meaning they have calories, but very little nutritional value.
To highlight the nutritional differences between complex and simple carbs, let's compare whole grains and refined grains.
A whole grain contains three distinct parts:
- Germ: The seed portion of the grain that's high in polyunsaturated fats and various important nutrients.
- Endosperm: The inner portion of the grain that's mostly made up of starch.
- Bran: The hard outer portion of the grain that's high in fiber and essential fatty acids.
The germ and bran of a grain are where the majority of its nutrition is found.
Interestingly, when grains are processed and refined, the highly nutritious germ and bran are removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm.
Whole wheat flour is a source of several important nutrients, but those nutrients are lacking in wheat flour that has been processed and refined.
The same is true for fruits and vegetables. In their whole forms, they contain small amounts of fructose, but they are also packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Bottom Line: Complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, are highly nutritious. Simple carbs provide calories, but no nutritional value.
Health Benefits of Complex Carbs
Carbs are not essential for life, but eating the right kind may benefit your health.
Complex Carbs Are Less Likely to Cause Blood Sugar Spikes
Simple carbs are digested very quickly, which causes a spike in your blood sugar.
Complex Carbs May Reduce Your Risk of Some Chronic Diseases
Complex Carbs Promote a Healthier Digestive System
There are billions of "good" bacteria lining your intestines. They're known as your gut microbiota.
Soluble fibers found in complex carbs feed the beneficial bacteria and increase their presence in your gut. They also help the bacteria produce nutrients, such as short-chain fatty acids, which are beneficial for digestive health (23).
Complex Carbs May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection or injury. However, long-term inflammation can increase the risk of several chronic diseases (25).
Bottom Line: Complex carbs like whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables have multiple health benefits.
Simple Carbs Can Be Detrimental to Your Health
Simple carbs like refined grains and added sugars are horrible for your body.
Below are some of the detrimental health effects of simple carbs:
- They contribute to overeating: Simple carbs break down quickly and cause a blood sugar roller coaster. Studies have found that these blood sugar spikes and crashes contribute to cravings, hunger and overeating (7, 8, 29).
- High triglyceride levels: Large amounts of refined carbs can lead to elevated triglyceride levels, which increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (3, 30, 31, 32).
- Increased heart disease risk: Sugar and refined grains increase heart disease risk. A study found those who ate the most refined grains were 2–3 times more likely to develop heart disease than those who ate the least (33, 34, 35, 36, 37).
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes: Excessive consumption of simple carbs can cause your cells to become resistant to insulin, which greatly increases your risk of type 2 diabetes (34, 38, 39, 40, 41).
- Sugar is addictive for some people: Similarly to recreational drugs, sugar causes the brain to release dopamine. For people that are prone to addiction, sugar can be highly addictive (42, 43).
- Increased chance of becoming obese: Simple carbs harm the hormones that regulate appetite, making them likely to contribute to obesity (29, 44).
Bottom Line: A diet high in refined carbs can have multiple negative health consequences.
Which Foods to Eat and Which Foods to Avoid
Carbs can be a healthy part of your diet if you choose the right ones.
The healthiest carbs are from foods that are in their whole, unprocessed form.
Complex Carbs to Eat
The following foods are good carbs to include in your diet:
- Whole grains: Whole, unprocessed grains like oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice.
- Legumes: Lentils, black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, etc.
- Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans, carrots, asparagus, etc.
- Fruits: Apples, berries, oranges, kiwi, etc.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, chia seeds, etc.
Refined Carbs to Limit or Avoid
These foods tend to contain mostly refined carbs and should be limited:
- Sugary beverages: Soft drinks, sweetened tea, sports drinks, fruit juices, etc.
- Desserts and sweets: Donuts, cakes, cookies, ice cream, candy, etc.
- White bread: This includes "white wheat" bread.
- White pastas: These are made from refined wheat flour.
Bottom Line: Complex carbs that are in their whole form are generally healthy foods that are rich in fiber and nutrients.
Take Home Message
Complex carbs are far more nutritious than simple carbs.
They are high in nutrients and fiber and eating them on a regular basis can be beneficial for your health and waistline.
On the other hand, simple carbs provide little to no nutritional value and should be avoided as much as possible.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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