Friday, February 6, 2009

Refined vs Complex Carbohydrates

I am quite surprised when I ask clients the question "Do you know the difference between a refind and complex carbohydrate"? and generally, the answer is quite clearly "no". Now, we don't need to get too technical with the "chains and branches" of the molecules but just understanding the process of refiing is important in this ever confusing world of food and nutrition. Our low fat days really confused so many and distorted the views of a healthy carbohydrate.

Description of Refined and Complex Carbohydrates

Dietary carbohydrates play a central role in human nutrition because they provide the primary source of the energy we need to fuel bodily functions.

Refined carbohydrates are a grain in which virtually all of the fiber, phytochemical, vitamin and trace element content have been removed. Even the natural simple sugars in fruits and vegetables have an advantage over refined sugars in that they are balanced by fiber and a wide range of nutrients that aid in the utilization of the sugars. (Murray; 2005, 69)

What are refined grains? Despite the benefits of a high fiber diet, the refining of grain, which converts whole grains into white flour, continues as one of the most detrimental practices in nutrition today. Refined grains, often called milled grains, have both the bran and the germ removed from the grain kernel. The bran is the protective outer layer, which is high in fiber and rich in protein. The germ is the part of the seed that actually sprouts, and is rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. What remains is the starchy white inner core, which is used to make white bread and white flour products. With the bran and germ removed, refined white flour has only a fraction of its original nutrition.

Many in the medical and research communities now believe that excessive consumption of carbohydrates-specifically, carbohydrates that have been refined and
Stripped of their supportive nutrients is a major contributing factor in a wide variety of diseases and premature aging. (Murray, 2005; 69)

Complex Carbohydrates, or starches, are composed of many simple sugars joined together by chemical bonds. These bonds can be linked in a serial chain, one after the other, as well as side to side, creating branches. Basically, the more chains and branches, the more complex the carbohydrate. The more complex a carbohydrate is, the more slowly it is broken down. Some carbohydrates are complex in a way that the body cannot digest them. These carbohydrates are a major component of fiber and generally pass through the digestive tract unabsorbed. In general, as long as complex carbohydrates are present in high fiber foods, the body breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars more gradually, which leads to better blood sugar control. More and more research on heart disease, various forms of cancer, and diabetes indicates that complex carbohydrates including high fiber foods should form a major part of the diet. For example, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet focuses on a whole-food diet made up of vegetable, legumes, and whole grains, which are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, high in fiber.

Turning whole grains into white flour increases calories, reduces the amount of fiber and reduces protein. More foods include white flour now more than ever since the discovery of refinement. Another dangerous component of ingesting refined foods is the lack of enzymes in the stripped food. When your food lacks enzymes, the pancreas is required to work over time therefore potentially causing it to fail and/or encourage disease such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

(Murray, 2000; 70)

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