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The Hunger Project Bolen Report
Ohm Society
Carbohydrates in Nutrition Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy Carbohydrates come in three basic forms: simple, refined, and complex. Simple carbs are one, two, or at most three units of sugar linked together in single molecules. Refined carbs are made of flour so that means foods like pastries, breads, and pastas. Flour has been stripped of its cellulose (fiber) and almost all of its nutritional value. Simple and refined carbs are referred to as “empty calories.” These calories require vitamins and minerals to be metabolized, but supply none of those requirements. Thus they drain the body of stored nutrients. Refined  carbs are hundreds or thousands of sugar units linked together in single molecules.

Simple sugars are easily identified by their taste: sweet. Most people know to avoid excess simple sugars. The same alarms do not go off when consuming breads and pastas, although they should since these items convert to simple sugar within minutes of consumption. Potatoes and rice are not very different in that respect.

Complex carbs come in two varieties: high fiber and low fiber. The main stuff in high-fiber, complex carbs which is cellulose. Fiber is not digestible by human beings because we do not have the enzyme (cellulase) to do the job. Cows and other ruminants do not make cellulase either, but they can get calories out of grass because they have a bacteria which can break down cellulose for them.

High-fiber (high-cellulose) vegetable foods (not grass of course) are the healthiest choices for human nutrition, and the ingestion is associated with lowered incidences of hypertension, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, etc. Examples are lettuce and broccoli. Examples of low-fiber, complex carbs are potatoe, rice, banana, tomato, squash and all cereals and grains (therefore bread and pasta), potatoes and rice.

After digestion, carbohydrates appear in the circulatory system in the simple form, as glucose, on its way to the cells where it is used for energy. To be transformed into simple sugars, refined carbs must be digested by the enzyme amylase. Amylase is secreted by the salivary glands, which empty into the mouth, and by the pancreas, which empties into the head of the duodenum.

Simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and low-fiber, complex carbs represent a threat to health when they are consumed in inappropriate amounts such as may occur in low-soy, vegetarian diets where they are being eaten to replace the calories which would ordinarily come from protein.

Processing of plant food strips away its fiber and/or vitamin content. A simple example of processing is cutting an orange in two pieces, pressing the juice into a glass and discarding the fiber.

While it is true that fiber is an important part of your diet, even necessary to protect you from some diseases, carbohydrates themselves are not necessary. There are “essential” fatty acids and “essential” amino acids (from protein), however there are no known essential carbohydrates.

Most of our carbohydrates come from cereals and grains, both products of the agricultural revolution. Our bodies are not genetically designed to thrive on large amounts of these fiberless complex carbs. With the popularity of cereal-based and grain-based “health diets,” carbohydrate metabolism has been upset in approximately 3/4 of the population which simply cannot handle this large load of carbs. Increased insulin output from the pancreas, over the years, results in hyperinsulinism, insulin resistance and the resulting diseases mentioned above: hypertension, dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Complex carbs with lots of fiber should be consumed in proper proportion for maximum health and vitality. Complex carbs with lots of fiber are rich sources of necessary vitamins and minerals as well as enzymes when in the raw state. The problem happens when carbohydrates are altered by processes which provide empty calories stripped of much of their original food value.

I should also mention the relationship between simple sugars and mucus formation. The biochemical name for mucus is mucopolysaccharide. This literally means “mucus of many sugars,” and it tells us how mucus is formed through the linking together of sugar molecules. If you have a condition, such as asthma or emphysema, in which mucus is part of the problem, you can do yourself a lot of good by stopping your intake of simple sugars and lowering your intake of refined carbohydrates. (which convert to simple sugars upon digestion). Unfortunately, this means such wonderful sweet fruits as plums, peaches, apples, etc., must go along with breads, pastas and pastries.

The most healthy form of sugar is the complex carbohydrates present in high-fiber vegetables; however, it is certainly acceptable to spice up your diet in moderation with simple sugars in the form of whole fruits in moderation. Eat your fruits, do not juice them and drink them, unless you are on a juice fast. Eating the whole fruit results in the inclusion of natural fiber, which allows proper absorption of sugars. If you must have juice, dilute it with twice the recommended amount of water, so as to get the taste without overdosing on simple sugars.

The Result of Excess Carbohydrate Intake

Excess carbohydrates also causes generalized vascular disease. The high-carbohydrate diet which is now so popular causes the pancreas to produce large amounts of insulin, and if this happens for many years in a genetically predisposed person, the insulin receptors throughout the body become resistant to insulin. Because insulin's action is to drive glucose into the cells, this results in chronic hyperglycemia, also called "high blood sugar." A large portion of this sugar is stored as fat resulting in obesity. Excess insulin also causes hypertension and helps initiate the sequence of events in the arterial wall which leads to atherosclerosis and heart disease.

Adult onset diabetes is known to be greatly benefited by the adoption of a low carbohydrate diet, moderate in fat, which stresses the importance of a regular intake of sufficient protein. You will not hear this advice from the American Diabetes Association, (or from most doctors) since they are still operating on the research as it was twenty years ago.

Many cancers, such as breast, colon and lung cancer, apparently have a hereditary tendency. However, it may be that nutritional habits are passed on from one generation to the next, thus accounting for the familial tendency toward cancer.

Excess fats damage the immune system through irradiation by free radicals during peroxidation of fats. Excess carbohydrates upset the hormonal system mentioned above (known as the "eicosanoids") and results in an imbalance favoring the type of eicosanoid (known as "prostaglandins E-2" or "PGE-2") which also suppresses the immune system. Thus obesity is associated with a higher incidence of infection.

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The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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