There used to be a TV commercial where the spokesperson would always end with, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” I wholeheartedly believe such an approach is key to helping a client reach his/her fitness goals. After all, the average client works with me between 2 and 4 hours per week. That leaves about 164 hours where it is up to the client to do the right thing. An important part of that education lies in recognizing how carbohydrates affect the human body.
The principle purpose of carbohydrates is to provide the body with energy. This is accomplished in the body by turning all carbohydrates into a substance called glucose (or blood sugar). Once converted, glucose begins to accumulate in the bloodstream. The problem is that one cannot have either too much or too little glucose in the blood at one time. When the level of glucose in the blood becomes too high, the body secretes a substance called insulin to remove the excess glucose. Now there are three places insulin transports this excess glucose to for storage: the liver, the working muscles of the body, and fat cells. Imagine these three places as storage rooms. The liver and the working muscles are storage rooms that only have one door - they can only receive glucose at a slow and steady pace. This is not a problem when the level of glucose in your blood is within normal range. However, when your blood sugar is high, insulin is trying to jam it all in through this one door – and it cannot! Consequently, your body is forced to skip the liver and the muscles and move onto the third option: fat cells. Now the fat storage room has thousands of doors – easily receiving the excess glucose.
How can you make this information work for you? Well, not all carbohydrates are converted to glucose at the same speed. Obviously, we want to try to eat carbohydrates that are converted slowly so you can easily accommodate them in the liver and working muscles. Carbohydrates that turn to glucose too quickly invariably wind up as fat. The Glycemic Index is a system of classifying carbohydrates based on how quickly they are converted to glucose. Foods are rated from one to 100 – the higher the rating, the quicker it is converted to glucose. If you Google “glycemic index,” you will find many websites that list foods and their corresponding ratings. Use the index to make educated choices about what to eat.
Many mitigating factors are involved in living a wellness lifestyle. The role carbohydrates play is but one component. However, the more you try to learn about your body the better prepared you will be to realize the goals you are trying to reach. Good luck and good health.