Carbohydrates are one of the most prominent food groups in the diet. They are present as sugars, starches, and fiber in food. Glucose molecules are linked together to form starch and fiber. When carbohydrates enter the body, the fiber goes undigested, while the sugar and starch are broken down into glucose.  Glucose provides the energy required for bodily functions.  

Carbohydrates are commonly associated with weight gain. However, the right kind of carbs in the right amounts can earn a rightful place in your diet. 

Types Of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are subdivided into three categories depending on the number of sugars present and the nature of the chemical bonds between them.

Different types of carbohydrates

Although this is the conventional way of classifying carbohydrates, a more useful approach would be to classify them as refined and whole carbohydrates.

Whole carbohydrates include vegetables, legumes, whole fruits, and grains, which are unprocessed and thus have their nutrient content intact.

The stripping of nutrients in refined carbohydrates as a part of processing makes them 'empty calories.' This removal of the nutrients results in rapid absorption and metabolism of these carbohydrates. This results in spiked sugar levels and unstable energy levels.

The Story Behind Carbohydrates

Previous studies on the development of the brain and other human traits suggest that the shift from plant-based to meat-based diet played a critical role. Since then, a lot of evidence has come to light that indicates the involvement of plant-based carbohydrates in meeting the demands of the growing brain.

Further, the role of cooking in improving the digestion and breakdown of carbohydrates has also been factored in. 

According to Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist from University College London, the brain's size started significantly increasing only around 800,000 years ago - which is speculated to be the time period where the usage of fire started. 

What does this mean?

Glucose is the main source of energy for the brain. When the cooked vegetables were consumed, the body had to put in much less work to convert the carbohydrates to glucose for feeding the brain.

For example, the starch in cooked potatoes digests 20 times faster than the uncooked ones. This suggests that cooked carbs, which became the major source of energy, contributed to brain growth.

To further investigate the hypothesis, the starch digesting enzyme amylase was studied. An analysis revealed that the genes that produce amylase started evolving to higher numbers around the same time cooking was started.

This was an advantage since more amylase was required to digest the increasing amounts of starch consumed. So, with every mouthful, the brain derived more energy from the starch.

There are still uncertainties about the antiquity of cooking and the reason for the increase in the amylase enzyme gene. However, the above-mentioned correlation cannot be just dismissed as a coincidence!

Genetics Of Weight Gain On Carbohydrate Intake

AMY1 gene

The AMY1 gene encodes the enzyme amylase, which is responsible for the digestion of starch. Salivary amylase is the enzyme found in your saliva, which begins the process of digesting starch in food. It breaks the insoluble starch into smaller soluble forms. High-AMY1-gene copy number (number of copies of a gene) indicates increased secretion of amylase. This results in a faster breakdown of starch. The difference in the copy number of the AMY1 gene is reported to be the genome's largest influence on obesity. According to a recent study, each copy of AMY1 decreases the risk of obesity 1.2-fold.

rs4244372

rs4244372 is a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) in the AMY1 gene. The A allele in this SNP is associated with a lower copy number of AMY1 gene, and hence poor starch metabolism. People who have the AA type may tend to put on more weight on carbohydrates when compared to the people who have the TT or the AT type.

Do All Carbohydrates Cause Weight Gain?

Refined carbohydrates cause sudden spikes in sugar levels. As the sugar levels rise, the body produces insulin to regulate them. Insulin converts excess sugar into fat. A higher spike in sugar levels results in increased insulin secretion, which leaves you with excess stubborn body fat. Various studies show that refined carbohydrates are associated with type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.

Whole carbohydrates, also known as complex carbohydrates, have natural fiber components in them. This fibrous part is easy to digest and thus helps us stay full for a longer time. A balanced diet that is rich in natural fiber helps maintain the blood sugar levels in our body. These foods have a low glycemic load. Glycemic load estimates how much a person's sugar level will rise upon consuming food. A low glycemic load indicates longer digestion time and a smaller spike in blood sugar levels.

An ideal whole carb diet contains seeds (chia seeds and pumpkin seeds), grains (quinoa and oats) with fresh vegetables and fruits. Many nutritionists also advise a switch from white rice to brown rice. This is because brown rice is packed with nutrients that help us prevent heart diseases and type 2 diabetes. 

Should You Avoid Carbohydrates Completely?

Other than being an important source of energy to the body, carbohydrates also perform the following functions:

Carbohydrates Help Maintain A Healthy Gut

Research tells us that a fibrous diet can help maintain a healthy gut. Complex carbohydrates contain a sugar component and a fiber component. Fiber is present in two categories, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps maintain bowel movements, as well as the consistency of the stool. Insoluble fiber relieves constipation and prevents various digestive tract diseases. Studies also show that a diet rich in fiber helps maintain our blood sugar levels and also benefits our heart.

Carbohydrates Influence Heart Health

While refined carbs are not really your heart's best friend, dietary fiber can help maintain blood sugar levels and is heart-healthy. When fiber passes through the intestines, it prevents reabsorption and hence, the buildup of bad cholesterol. This reduces the risk of heart diseases. 

Dr. Tamar Polonsky, MD, from the University of Chicago Medicine, said that foods that contain complex carbs "decrease inflammation and help us decrease the risk of plaque buildup in our arteries." Plaque is the deposition of certain substances in the blood vessels that block the blood flow. This buildup is caused by fat, cholesterol, and calcium that is present in the blood. This can potentially lead to a heart attack or stroke. Polonsky advises us to stick to healthier carbohydrates with less fat and cholesterol to prevent these.

Carbohydrates Help Maintain Muscle Strength

Our body stores the extra glucose in the form of glycogen (another sugar), which is very important to us. When there's no available glucose from carbohydrates, the body breaks down the muscles to generate glucose for energy. To prevent muscle mass loss due to starvation, the consumption of adequate amounts of carbs is essential.

Carbohydrates Can Improve Mental Health

Apart from all the impacts on physical health, research suggests that carbohydrates can improve mental health as well. A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people who were on a low-carbohydrate diet for a year experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Food Sources That Have Low Carb Content

The idea behind a low-carbohydrate diet (for weight loss) is that if the body does not receive the extra carbohydrate, no excess fat will be stored. Instead, the fat already present will be burnt for energy. 

Plant Sources Of Low-Carbohydrates Foods

Animal Sources Of Low-Carbohydrates Foods

High-carbohydrate need not necessarily be our enemy. In fact, high carbohydrate foods with adequate fiber are extremely healthy. 

Food Sources Of Complex Carbohydrates

All these foods are rich in fiber and help us from feeling hungry frequently. They also help us maintain good gut and heart health. 

Summary

Carbohydrates are one of the major food groups. There are two types of carbohydrates - whole or complex and refined. Whole/Complex carbohydrates present in food like oats and bananas are healthy, while the refined carbohydrates are "empty calories" that spike your blood sugar levels. The starch in the carbohydrates is digested by the salivary enzyme, amylase, encoded by the AMY1 gene. A higher copy number of the AMY1 gene is considered beneficial, as it results in a faster breakdown of starch. rs4244372 is an SNP in the AMY1 gene associated with the difference in the copy number of the gene. People who have the AA type tend to have a low copy number and hence may be poor digestors of starch. These people are at an increased risk for weight gain on carbohydrate consumption and may benefit from a low-carbohydrate diet. Some low carbohydrate foods include leafy greens, nuts, and olive oil. Animal foods like lean meat and fish are low in carbohydrates. Another option can be switching to a fiber-rich carbohydrate (complex carbohydrates) diet. Fiber is digested slowly and thus keeps you full for longer. Quinoa, buckwheat, berries, and sweet potatoes are good sources of complex carbohydrates.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6485469/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712930/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3836142/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24008907/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_load
  6. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/gnet-brown-rice-diabetes/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21332763/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23422921/
  9. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/heart-and-vascular-articles/the-benefits-carbohydrates-can-have-on-heart-health
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19901139/

“Nutrition can be compared to a chain in which all essential items are separate links. We know what happens if one link of a chain is weak or is missing. The whole chain falls apart,” says Patrick Wright, the famous researcher on food-related diseases. Micronutrients are small but vital links that hold our system together. Let's get into how you can incorporate them into your diet to make it wholesome and nutritious.

The human body is a complicated network of systems that are remarkably integrated by tiny links that can snap due to malnourishment.

Micronutrients, which include vitamins and minerals, provide the necessary strength and resilience to these strategic links and help your system sustain a healthy metabolism without any breakdown.

They give a boost to the immune system by repairing cellular damages.

Micronutrients are required in small quantities by our bodies but are essential for the growth, development, and normal functioning of the various systems.

However, a mere look at the long list of vitamins and minerals, their functions, food sources, and the outcomes of their deficiencies can send you into a tizzy.

The salient features that you have to remember are that vitamins and minerals perform several vital functions in your body, and hence, they are part of the essential nutrients that your diet should contain.

The best way to intake vitamins and minerals is through diet only.

The key word with regard to your intake should be moderation.

Anything, however essential it is, when consumed in excess, could unsettle the balance by giving rise to complications.

Wonder Vitamins

Types of Vitamins

Vitamins are known as organic substances as they are produced by plants and animals.

There are 13 essential vitamins that are classified as water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble.

All the eight B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 & B12) and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins.

Vitamins A, D, E & K are the fat-soluble vitamins.

As the water-soluble vitamins are easily excreted from the body through urine, you have to consistently include them in your daily diet to obtain their benefits.

Fats and lipids aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins by the body.

However, the excess storage of these vitamins could lead to complications.

Fruits and green & leafy vegetables, milk, eggs, and other dairy products, meat, fish, mushrooms, cereals, nuts and seeds, and whole grains are the primary sources of vitamins.

It is essential for you to understand that a certain percentage of vitamins, especially the water-soluble ones, are lost in the process of cooking due to exposure to heat.

Hence, steaming or grilling could be a healthier way to cook your food for preventing the loss of nutrition.

The vital functions of vitamins

Each vitamin has its own specific crucial function:

To experience the world of benefits offered by these wonder vitamins, all you need to do is to include them in tiny quantities in your daily diet.

While it is a fact that we require micronutrients in small quantities, let us never overlook the reality that the lack of micronutrients can result in serious health issues.

Vitamin deficiency

The deficiency of vitamins can prove disastrous to your body.

Lack of vitamins in your diet will lead to primary deficiencies.

Secondary deficiencies occur when your system is unable to absorb or utilize the vitamins due to certain sedentary habits.

Osteoporosis, vision impairments, skin infections, toothaches, and bleeding gums are a few of the common complications resulting from vitamin deficiencies.

Magical Minerals

Types of minerals

Minerals are inorganic substances that are absorbed from the earth through soil and water by plants and animals.

The functioning of bones, muscles, heart, and brain depends on your intake of minerals.

Minerals are also crucial for making enzymes and hormones.

There are about 50 minerals that our body stores in varying amounts.

They are classified into macro-minerals and trace minerals.

The body requires macro-minerals in larger quantities in contrast to trace minerals

The macro-minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. 

Vitals functions of macro-minerals

You need calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in good quantities to keep your bones healthy.

Intake of sodium, chloride, and potassium helps bring about a balance of water in your body.

The regular consumption of sulfur strengthens the protein structures in the hair, skin, and nails.

The trace minerals include iron, copper, chromium, fluoride, iodine, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Vitals functions of trace minerals

Iron transports oxygen throughout your body, fluoride prevents tooth decay, copper helps in the formation of enzymes, and zinc sharpens your ability to taste and smell.

Minerals are absorbed by the bloodstream and are excreted by the kidneys like the water-soluble vitamins.

However, excess consumption of one mineral might impair your body’s ability to absorb another mineral.

This could result in mineral imbalance or deficiency.

This kind of imbalance occurs mostly due to overloads caused by supplement usage.

Most of us remain unaware of the fact that excess intake of sodium through processed foods or in the form of table salt can lead to calcium deficiency.

When there is a rise in sodium levels, your body receives a signal to excrete the excess sodium.

As calcium always binds with excess sodium, you automatically lose calcium as well.

Thus, indiscriminate consumption of processed foods will eventually lead to calcium deficiency and bone disorders.

Similarly, excess phosphorus will hamper your body’s ability to absorb magnesium that is essential for enzyme activation and functioning of the muscles and nerves.

Minerals also interact with vitamins, as in the case of vitamin C, that helps you absorb iron more efficiently.

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Increased Zinc Intake Can Put You At A Risk For Copper Deficiency

Food sources rich in minerals include egg, meat, milk, cheese, cereals, dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, banana, orange, melons, salt, etc.

Impact of your diet on your genes

Do you know that the food that you consume has a greater impact on the overall performance of your genes and DNA?

Genetic research has shown that individual genetic variations greatly influence the assimilation, metabolization, storage, and excretion of micro and macro-nutrients.

Right now there's no magic pill that can reset your genetic makeup, but it doesn't mean that you are stuck with your genetic profile either.

Genetic testing helps in analyzing an individual’s genome that can predict how effectively his/her body can absorb and assimilate the food items that the individual consumes along with the chemicals that are present in them.

You can counter-balance your genetic risk for certain deficiencies and health conditions through a personally tailored diet and other healthy lifestyle choices.

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