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Carbohydrate and heart health: Here is what you should know

Carbohydrate diet may induce obesity in some. © Shutterstock

Ms Shalini Arvind- Chief Dietician- Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore explains how carbohydrate-rich diets affect heart health, blood sugar and other functions of the body.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : September 26, 2018 5:27 PM IST

A heart-healthy diet consists of the adequate amount of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, calcium, carbohydrate and fats. Carbohydrate is what we depend on for our energy requirements, not only for the physical activity that we do but also for all the metabolic, respiratory, digestive, immune functions of the body. Here Ms Shalini Arvind- Chief Dietician- Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore explains how carbohydrate-rich diets affect heart health, blood sugar and other functions of the body.

Our body needs a constant supply of energy to function properly and a lack of carbohydrates in the diet can cause tiredness or fatigue, poor mental function and dip in endurance and stamina. Glucose is the form of sugar that travels in our bloodstream to fuel the mitochondrial furnaces (which is known as the storehouse of the energy of every cell) responsible for our brain power. Glucose is the only fuel used by brain cells. Because neurons cannot store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to deliver a constant supply of this precious fuel. Now, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex carbohydrates and one need to choose them wisely.

Simple carbohydrates consist of one or two sugar molecules, which means that due to their simple structure, they can quickly and easily be broken down into glucose and converted into energy very soon after they have been consumed. Complex carbohydrates are also known as starchy carbohydrates and can be found in most grains, cereals, potatoes, brown rice, bread, pasta, legumes and certain fruits and vegetables. They are basically many sugar molecules joined together in a chain. Due to the more complex chemical structure, complex carbohydrates are not broken down or digested as quickly or easily as simple carbohydrates. This is much better for the body, as there are no surges in blood sugar levels and the energy provided from these foods is released at a slow and steady rate. The bonus is complex carbohydrates contain plenty of vitamins and fibre, which are essential nutrients for the body.

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Thus, declaring all the carbohydrates as bad is not justified. It s the method of processing that matters and of course the quantity that is consumed that makes it healthy or unhealthy. If the consumption is more of refined, fibreless, highly processed carbohydrates, the choice is to be blamed and not the carbohydrate. You may opt for portion controlled, complex, less processed, nutrient-packed, healthy carbohydrates and still manage your weight and blood sugar level very efficiently.

Select a variety of complex carbohydrate foods that would maintain your weight and keep your heart healthy, for example:

  • Ragi and other millets
  • Whole wheat flour products
  • Multigrain products
  • Unpolished rice and its products
  • Vegetables with edible skin (for eg -potatoes with skin, wherever possible)
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Pulses and legumes
  • Fruits with edible skin

Hence, the take-home message is to include all the nutrients in the diet in required quantity, rather than overdosing on one and completely avoiding the other.

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