Why are refined carbohydrates bad for you?

Not all carbohydrates are the same.

Many whole foods that are high in carbohydrates are incredibly healthy and nutritious.

On the other hand, refined or simple carbohydrates have been eliminated most of the nutrients and fiber.

Eating refined carbohydrates is linked to a drastic increase in the risk of many diseases, such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Almost all nutrition experts agree that refined carbohydrates should be limited.

However, they are still the principal Source of dietary carbohydrates in many countries.

This article explains what refined carbohydrates are and why they are bad for your health.

What are refined carbohydrates?

Refined carbohydrates are also known as simple carbohydrates or processed carbohydrates.

There are two main types:

  • Sugars: Refined and processed sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup and agave syrup.

  • Refined grains: These are grains from which the fibrous and nutritious parts have been removed. The biggest source is white flour made from refined wheat.

Refined carbohydrates have been stripped of almost all fibers, vitamins and minerals. For this reason, they can be considered as "empty" calories.

They also digest quickly and have a high glycemic index. This means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals.

Eating foods with a high glycemic index has been linked to overeating and increasing the risk of many diseases (1, 2).

Unfortunately, sugars and refined grains are a very important part of total carbohydrate intake in many countries (3, 4, 5).

The main dietary sources of refined carbohydrates are white flour, white bread, white rice, cakes, soft drinks, sandwiches, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals and added sugars.

They are also added to all kinds of processed foods.

Bottom line: Refined carbohydrates include mainly processed sugars and grains. They are empty calories and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Refined grains are much lower in fiber and micronutrients

Whole grains are very high in dietary fiber (6).

They consist of three main parts (7, 8):

  1. Saved: The hard outer layer, which contains fiber, minerals and antioxidants.

  2. Germ: The nutrient-rich core, which contains carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant compounds.

  3. Endosperm: The middle layer, which contains mainly carbohydrates and small amounts of proteins.

Whole grain against refined

(Image by SkinnyChef).

Bran and germ are the most nutritious parts of whole grains.

They contain high amounts of many nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and selenium.

During the refining process, the bran and germ are eliminated, along with all the nutrients they contain (9).

This leaves almost no fiber, vitamins or minerals in the refined grains. The only thing that remains is the starch of fast digestion with small amounts of proteins.

That said, some growers enrich their products with synthetic vitamins to offset some of the loss of nutrients.

Whether or not synthetic vitamins are as good as natural vitamins has been debated for a long time. However, most people will agree that obtaining their nutrients from whole foods is always the best option (10).

Diets high in refined carbohydrates also tend to be low in fiber. Diets low in fiber have been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and various digestive problems (11, 12, 13).

Bottom line: When beans are refined, almost all fiber, vitamins and minerals are removed from them. Some producers enrich their products with synthetic vitamins after processing.

Refined carbohydrates can lead to overeating and increase the risk of obesity

A large part of the population is overweight or obese. Eating many refined carbohydrates can be one of the main culprits (14, 15).

Because they are low in fiber and are digested quickly, eating refined carbohydrates can cause significant changes in blood sugar levels. This can contribute to overeating (16).

This is because foods high in the glycemic index promote short-term fullness, which lasts about an hour. On the other hand, foods that are low in the glycemic index promote a sensation of sustained fullness, lasting between two and three hours (2, 17).

Blood sugar levels go down about an hour or two after eating a meal rich in refined carbohydrates. This promotes hunger and stimulates parts of the brain associated with reward and desire (18).

These signals make him want more food and are known to cause overeating (16).

Long-term studies have also shown that the consumption of refined carbohydrates is related to an increase in abdominal fat over the course of five years (19, 20).

In addition, refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation in the body. Several experts have speculated that this may be one of the main dietary causes of leptin resistance and obesity (21, 22).

Bottom line: Refined carbohydrates cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, and they only make you feel full for a short time. This is followed by a drop in blood sugar, hunger and cravings.

Refined carbohydrates may increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes

Heart disease is incredibly common and, currently, the greatest killer in the world.

Type 2 diabetes is another very common disease, affecting about 300 million people worldwide.

People with type 2 diabetes have a high risk of developing heart disease (23, 24, 25).

Studies show that a high intake of refined carbohydrates is related to insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. These are some of the main symptoms of type 2 diabetes (14, 26, 27).

Refined carbohydrates also increase triglyceride levels in the blood. This is a risk factor for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes (28, 29, 30, 31).

A study in Chinese adults showed that more than 85% of the total carbohydrate intake came from refined carbohydrates, mainly white rice and refined wheat products (32).

The study also showed that people who ate the most refined carbohydrates were two to three times more likely to have heart disease, compared to those who ate less.

Bottom line: Refined carbohydrates can increase triglycerides in the blood, blood sugar levels and cause insulin resistance. All of these are important risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Not all carbohydrates are bad

Eating many refined carbohydrates can have many negative health effects. However, not all carbohydrates are bad.

Some whole foods rich in carbohydrates are extremely healthy. These are great sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and several beneficial compounds for plants.

Healthy foods rich in carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, root vegetables and whole grains, such as oats and barley.

Unless you are following a carbohydrate-restricted diet, there is absolutely no reason to avoid these foods simply because they contain carbohydrates.

Here is a list of 12 high-carbohydrate foods that are incredibly healthy.

Bottom line: Whole foods that contain carbohydrates tend to be incredibly healthy. These include vegetables, fruits, legumes, root vegetables and whole grains.

Bring the message home

For optimal health (and weight), try to get most of your carbohydrates from whole-grain, single-ingredient foods.

If a food comes with a long list of ingredients, it is probably not a healthy source of carbohydrates.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-refined-carbs-are-bad


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