For the longest time, I thought a carbohydrate was some sort of a bread or pasta. Never did I ponder what those breads and pastas were made with.
I think back to those days and “cutting back on carbs” meant eating more rice, less pasta. More wraps and less sandwiches. And of course there was no restriction on dessert. 😉
Tsk, tsk. *wags finger*
What exactly is a carbohydrate?
Dictionary.com offers five different definitions for the word carbohydrate. FIVE! One definition is very simple: “from carbo- and hydrate”
Wow. Insightful. 😉
Another one (the first one on the page actually) is pretty complicated, even for those well-versed in science-ese: any of a class of organic compounds that are polyhydroxy aldehydes or polyhydroxy ketones, or change to such substances on simple chemical transformations, as hydrolysis, oxidation, or reduction, and that form the supporting tissues of plants and are important food for animals and people.
Did you get that? Me neither.
Folks, I’m all about baby steps and keeping things simple as often as possible, so here’s MY definition of carbohydrate (backed up by a medical dictionary, science dictionary and Nourishing Traditions):
Carbohydrates are starches and sugars. Celluloses and gums are carbohydrates too, but those won’t be covered in this section (at least, not as of right now) so we’ll put them in the “we’ll deal with those when we cross that bridge” category. Carbohydrates are organic, meaning they’re found in nature and were created by God, not man, since they’re a product of photosynthesis in green plants.
I’m sure you’ve heard variations of the word saccharide word tossed around here and there… monosaccharide, disaccharide, oligosaccharide or polysaccharide? In biochemistry, a carbhohydrate is known as a saccharide. Basically it’s all science-ese for a term that once originated in the Greek and lo and behold, all essentially means the same thing – sugar.
Side Note: I don’t know about you, but my mind tends to think of carbohydrates on a greater scale – like loaves of bread and packaged crackers – instead of the nitty gritty science stuff. However, in order to really understand how carbohydrates impact our bodies, we’ve got to be down in the trenches, turning all this gobbly gook into plain English. All right, pep talk over. Let’s keep going.
Remember how carbohydrates are created through photosynthesis? I thought that was interesting at first, but then it through me for a loop when started to consider the implications:
- Bread –> white/wheat flour –> wheat –> was once a green plant
- Pasta –> flour –> wheat –> was once a green plant
- Rice –> the seed of a green plant
- Corn (oil) –> extracted from the germ of corn –> seeds most often seen in groups called ears, of green plant
- Canola (oil) –> extracted from the seed of either rapeseed or field mustard –> both leafy green plants
- Sugar –> extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets –> both were once a green plant
- Beans –> seed of a legume –> was once a green plant
- Lentils –> seed of a legume –> was once a green plant
- Apples –> the fruit from a tree, with green leaves
- Avocado –> the fruit of a tree, with green leaves
- Brussels Sprouts –> a very small, leafy green plant
- Seaweed –> a green plant (that grows in water)
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but do you see a common theme?
Most whole foods (if not all?) can be broken down into one of two categories: plant-based or animal-based. By definition alone, all (green) plant-based foods will contain some sort of sugar. This doesn’t mean that brussles sprouts are carbohydrates, but it does mean that it contains carbohydrates in the form of sugar.
Obviously some foods have more carbohydrates and some have less, but nonetheless – our bodies can only process sugar in so many ways. Regardless of how man as altered the food, if it originated from a green plant, our body treats the carbohydrates in the food as a sugar.
Side Note #2: This may sound scary and perhaps a little “wrong” to some of you. Fresh fruits and vegetables are comprised of sugar? Aren’t we told that sugar is the enemy? I encourage you hang with me on this series, because this is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. Once we have all the pieces together, then we’ll understand the bigger picture. Ok, back to the sugars.
Ever heard of the words glucose, fructose or lactose? Those are types of sugar. Essentially any word ending in –ose is a sugar. Here’s a brief list of common sugars and what they all mean:
- Sucrose – common table sugar
- Lactose – milk sugar
- Maltose – malt sugar
- Fructose – the sugar in fruit and HFCS (which shouldn’t be in your kitchen anymore, right?…)
- Glucose – the primary sugar in the blood
There’s a lot more to discuss about carbohydrates: there are good (unrefined) carbohydrates and bad (refined) carbohydrates. There are complex sugars and simple sugars – neither of which are exclusively good nor bad. And then of all the different types of carbohydrates and sugars out there, our body really only processes two.
We’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg today. So much more is coming on this topic and I’m so excited to take baby steps through it all with you. Be sure to sign up for the weekly newsletter so you don’t miss a step!