Digestion Case Study

Carbohydrates can be a tricky concept to understand. Are they good for you? Are they bad for you? What types of food are they in?

A group of 3 girls pondered these questions before decided they wanted to find out for themselves. Their interest was initially sparked by learning about farmers in Australia. These farmers where signing up their sheep and cattle to take part in a vaccine program with the goal to “take the hear off global warming.” This made them examine their own lives to see what part of their daily diet includes carbohydrates.

For breakfast, they had cherrios with oat bran, a tall Latte with skim milk, and a Powerbar. For lunch, they had Coke and a salad with lettuce, tomato, shredded carrot, green peas, kidney beans, and tuna fish.Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.31.23 PM

Looking at this selection, I notice that everything except the tuna has carbohydrates. Some rules to help me understand what has carbohydrates and what doesn’t are below:

  1. Anything with dairy or gluten
  2. Anything that contains sugar
  3. Anything with sugar, starch, or cellulose

Another tip to remember is that carbohydrates are normally made by plants, thus anything that is a plant or made from plants includes carbohydrates. Carbohydrates sometimes can be very stubborn and can only be digested/released through the form of gas. These stubborn carbohydrates are usually simple sugars, starches, and fiber. Fiber in general can not be broken down because our body does not contain the enzymes needed to do so. This does not mean fiber is bad for you. In fact, fiber is extremely important to be included in our diet because it provides healthy bacteria!

Our body is a very complex machine but that does not mean that it can break down every material that enters it’s system. Some foods have extremely large molecules, making it incredibly difficult to break down. Also in some cases, including fiber, our body does not have the necessary enzymes needed to break up the molecules. This is the reasoning behind why certain foods can not be broken down in our body.

The girls then turned to their power bar. Curious as to what percentage of the bar is simple sugar, they analyzed the label. 31% of the bar consists of simple sugar. It is nearly impossible, and certainly unhealthy, to try to omit all carbohydrates that are not well digested. These carbohydrates are found in countless foods, including really healthy options like vegetables! Our body needs nutrients and energy to continue running at a productive and healthy rate. These carbohydrates do exactly that. Our body needs them and it is not a good idea to try to take them completely out of one’s diet.

On the bar, the simple sugars are salt and glycerin. The complex carbohydrates are the high fructose corn syrup with grape and pear juice concentration, rice crisps (milled rice/rice bran), peanut, and brown rice. The complex carbohydrates that contain fiber are the oat bran and maltodextrin. The carbohydrate that will produce gas is milk protein isolate.

Before this case, I was very confused on carbohydrates, the different types of them, and their effect on the body. I learned so much from this and I can’t wait to apply my knowledge to my daily life!