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What Does “Carbs” Mean?
Friday, October 05, 2012 9:35 am Email this article
People are confused about the meaning of words such as "carbs" and "metabolism". The confusion is exploited by advertisers, so let me explain. The word "carbs" was originally a shorthand for "carbohydrates", i.e. molecules containing only carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). A pretty useless term since the definition included molecules that had nothing in common. What biochemists meant, in practice, by the term was sugars or chains of sugar as opposed to protein or fat.
Nowadays what people mean by the word "carbs" is ‘carbohydrates that can be converted in the body to sugar, i.e. glucose’.
Advertisers use the old definition of the word to advertise their beer or sports drink. They cannily claim their beverage has fewer "carbs".
But wait. has any carbs by the modern standard. So it’s an idle boast.
While it is true that the alcohol in beer (ethanol CH3CH2OH) contains only C, H, and O, and is a carb by the old definition, ethanol cannot be converted to glucose in the body, because pyruvate kinase is irreversible, so alcohol is not a carb by the new definition.
My personal view is that the word "carbs" should be re-defined to mean any food ingredient that strongly raises insulin, increasing body fat. Then diet sodas would be included as they should be. After all, it’s the effect of a food-ingredient the average Jo cares about, not the chemistry.
Next week I will explain "metabolism".
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