Monday, August 27, 2007

Why do you think they call them COMPLEX carbohydrates?

Laura Dolson writes about the complexity of complex carbohydrates.

It was once thought that complex carbohydrates do not raise blood sugar as quickly or as much as sugars, but now we know that some starches are actually more glycemic than some sugars. In this sense, they are not “complex” for very long at all....

Different kinds of starch have different arrangements of molecules, and some are easier for our digestive enzymes to get at than others. One kind of starch, called amylose, is broken down quite slowly. The higher the amount of amylose in a starch, the more slowly it is digested. Different types of rice have differing percentages of amylose. Long grain rices, which tend to stay more separate, are higher in amylose. Shorter grain rices, which tend to produce creamier and stickier rice are low in amylose and are more glycemic. New potatoes (sometimes described as “waxy”) have a starch that is closer to amylose in structure than more mature potatoes, and they are somewhat less glycemic.

And here's one that I'd like to research:

One processed food that seems to be digested more slowly than would be guessed is pasta. Apparently the starch molecules are so tightly packed that only about half is rapidly digested when the pasta is cooked “al dente” (slightly firm). Cooking time and thickness of the pasta greatly affects how the glycemic it is.

On the other hand, some people think that the glycemic index, and all of the emphasis that diets such as the South Beach Diet place on it, is a bunch of hooey:

The premise of the book is that many foods high in carbohydrates send blood sugar soaring too high too fast, which then gets the hormone insulin in gear to take sugar out of the bloodstream. But the insulin overshoots its mark, causing blood sugar to plunge and leading to reactive hypoglycemia, which in turn produces feelings of incredible hunger and cravings for more carbs that keep the vicious cycle going. Dr. Agatston refers to the process as “the dreaded acute rise and fall of blood sugar level, creating more cravings later on,” and he says that eating “a baked potato in mid-afternoon practically guarantees that you’ll be starving for carbs by dinner.” It’s eating “bad” carbohydrates, he comments, not eating too many calories, that “ultimately is responsible for our epidemic of obesity.”

There’s just one problem. Unless you have diabetes, blood sugar remains in a remarkably stable range. Yes, it may drop lower after eating a hot fudge sundae than after eating a salmon steak on a bed of lettuce. But, points out Christine L. Pelkman, PhD, who studies blood sugar responses to carbohydrate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, research that has looked at this issue simply has not linked relatively low blood sugar to hunger. “At most,” she says, “it’s a minor player in the hunger/satiety mechanism, with many other hormones and bodily reactions coming into play.”

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