Carbohydrates – In Depth

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Is it just you struggling to maintain or lose weight? Nope! Guess how many results Google churns out when you type the topic ‘Weight gain’. About 682,000,000 results! Six hundred and eighty two MILLION! Can you even imagine how many people are frantically looking for diets and workouts online right now? Right, millions. Diets that help you lose weight in 8 days! Teas that guarantee weight loss, no surgery! Workout regimes that will transform your life in just 4 weeks! Dispelling light and hope to so many hapless humans, only to fall short in terms of actual, long term, sustainable benefits.

So, do not worry; you’re not alone. However, that doesn’t mean you have to join the herd. Wouldn’t you like to know WHY you have gained or are consistently gaining weight? And then find a solution to your weight gain dilemma, based on what the problem is, actually? 

For many of us Sri Lankans, the problem is – quite simply – our love affair with Carbohydrates or Carbs as we know it.

We all know, too well, the urge for junk food after a long day at work. The irresistible urge to order one of those delicious cakes or cookies that you see while scrolling through social media during work. The quick stop to buy some short eats in our almighty rush to work. Or are you dealing with the guilt of eating a bit too much kottu for dinner? Well, all us Sri Lankans are in the same boat, we LOVE our carbohydrates, much to our detriment. A study conducted by the university of Colombo showed that 71% of our daily meals are food with carbohydrates, well above the recommended daily range of 45%-65%.

 But you ask, what is the relationship between carbohydrates and weight? Aren’t fats & oils the culprit behind weight gain? How on earth does food with carbohydrates turn into fat in your body?

How Carbohydrates work in our body

Of the three major nutrients — carbohydrates, fat and protein — carbohydrates is the most important nutrient needed for energy, as the body burns carbs first for energy. The carbohydrates in food (rice, bread, pasta, noodles, potatoes, rice & wheat flour based products such as string hoppers, hoppers etc.) get broken down into glucose during digestion, then move to the liver and into the blood. As blood glucose rises, the pancreas produces insulin, which signals the cells to take up glucose. Whatever glucose the cells don’t need immediately for energy is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.

When you eat too many carbohydrates your body may reach its storage capacity for glycogen. The liver converts the stored glycogen into triglycerides, or fats, so that the excess energy can be transported to the fat cells for longer-term storage. Your fat cells release this energy when needed. If you eat more calories than you burn, your body will continue to store the fat.  That is one of the reasons you keep adding those kilos and inches.

Are all carbs made equal?

However, it is not only our high intake of carbohydrates but also the type of carbohydrate that we consume that damages our body in the long term. All carbs aren’t made equal. The type of carbohydrate we consume plays a pivotal role in our body composition and health.

All carbohydrates we consume are digested into simple sugars before they’re absorbed by the body; whether you have a simple teaspoon of sugar or a high-fiber, low glycemic (GI) kurakkan cracker. The difference lies in that the “healthier carbs”, or low GI carbs, are digested and absorbed much slower while the “non-healthy” carbs, or high GI carbs, are digested very quickly, leading to large fluctuations in your blood sugar and a corresponding insulin response.

Blood sugar and insulin spikes

Quick carbohydrate absorption works against us in two ways:

1) When the body senses a sharp spike in blood glucose level, the resulting spike in insulin will lead the body to absorb the glucose quickly, leading to blood sugar levels falling very quickly, which can then result in craving more food. So digesting carbs slower will keep you feeling fuller for longer.

2) Consistently elevated levels of blood sugar will also trigger the body to store the excess glucose. So digesting carbs slower will release glucose into your body at a slower rate, allowing your body to use that energy instead of storing it.

As such, management of this cycle (large spikes and drops in blood sugar) is critical to maintaining a healthy metabolism. One of the main benefits of eating foods with a lower glycemic index is that it may help you to cut cravings and urges by limiting spikes in your blood sugar which trigger the release of insulin, ultimately leading to fat storage and weight gain and in the long term, metabolic diseases. This is the premise for many low carb diets.

The answer to controlling those pesky blood sugar spikes when you fall off the dieting bandwagon, could be in Ceylon Cinnamon!

Scottish Study

Scientists have long known that cinnamon is a metabolic powerhouse that can help prevent blood-sugar spikes and protect against insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes, and cardiovascular damage. However, how exactly Cinnamon helps these metabolic issues has been debated. Now, scientists at Aberdeen University’s Rowett Institute have found that Ceylon Cinnamon extracts can help your body absorb fast digesting, high glycemic carbohydrates similar to healthier low glycemic carbohydrates.

They did an interesting experiment where they looked at how addition of different Cinnamon extracts can affect how the body digests carbohydrates such as bread. This study showed that Cinnamon extracts, specifically Ceylon Cinnamon extracts taken in the right quantity can slow the breakdown of starches, such as bread – thereby moderating blood sugar spikes. Their study showed that active compounds in Cinnamon can help moderate the blood glucose spikes by slowing the breakdown of starch. In short, it allows the body to digest “non-healthy”, high GI carbs similar to “healthier”, low GI carbs. Dr Viren Ranawana, the nutritionist who led the study, said: “It is all about prevention. How can we stop people getting ill? Having a diet high in these natural products which are rich in nutrients can hopefully help. If you are eating a lot of high-glycemic foods and then you are having some natural products, that can help to reduce the glycemic impact.”

French Study

Another study was conducted in France, where 18 people were given a Ceylon Cinnamon extract along with bread. This study showed that the group that took the Cinnamon extract had a significantly lower spike in blood glucose than the group that did not.

German Study

And finally, a study conducted in Germany looked at the effect of 6 grams of Cinnamon taken along with a high carb, high GI meal (300g of rice pudding). This study not only showed similar effects, where the group that had the rice pudding with the Cinnamon showed lower blood glucose levels, but they also demonstrated that it did so by slowing down digestion (lowering gastric emptying rate).


Sources

  1. Hayward, N., Mcdougall, G., Farag, S., Allwood, J., Austin, C., Campbell, F., Horgan, G., Ranawana, V. Cinnamon shows antidiabetic properties that are species-specific: effects on enzyme activity Inhibition and starch digestion. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 2019.[LINK: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11130-019-00760-8]
  2. Beejmohun, V., Peytavy-Izard, M., Mignon, C., Muscente-Paque, D., Deplanque, X., Ripoll, C., Chapal, N. Acute effect of Ceylon cinnamon extract on postprandial glycemia: Alpha-amylase inhibition, starch tolerance test in rats, and randomized crossover clinical trial in healthy volunteers. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014.[LINK: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266084780_Acute_effect_of_Ceylon_cinnamon_extract_on_postprandial_glycemia_Alpha-amylase_inhibition_starch_tolerance_test_in_rats_and_randomized_crossover_clinical_trial_in_healthy_volunteers]
  3. Hlebowicz, J., Darwiche, G., Björgell, O., Almér, L. Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007.[LINK: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/6/1552.full.pdf+html]

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