Some problems with carbohydrates

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Some people have a hard time handling carbohydrates. For example, people with Type 1 ("insulin dependent") diabetes do not produce sufficient amounts of insulin, the hormones needed to carry all the glucose produced from carbohydrates into body cells. As a result, the glucose continues to circulate in the blood until it's excreted through the kidneys. That's why one way to tell whether someone has diabetes is to test the level of sugar in that person's urine.

Other people can't digest carbohydrates because their bodies lack the specific enzymes needed to break the bonds that hold a carbohydrate's sugar units together. For example, many (some say most) Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners, South Americans, and Eastern, Central, or Southern Europeans are deficient in lactase, the enzyme that splits lactose (milk sugar) into glucose and galactose. If they drink milk or eat milk products, they end up with a lot of undigested lactose in their intestinal tracts. This undigested lactose makes the bacteria living there happy as clams — but not the person who owns the intestines: As bacteria feast on the undigested sugar, they excrete waste products that give their host gas and cramps.

Time out for the name game!

Here's an interesting bit of nutritional information. The names of all enzymes end in the letters -ase. An enzyme that digests a specific substance in food often has a name similar to the substance but with the letters -ase at the end.

For example, proteases are enzymes that digest protein; lipases are enzymes that digest fats (lipids); galactase is the enzyme that digests galactose.

To avoid this anomaly, many national cuisines purposely are void of milk as an ingredient. (Quick! Name one native Asian dish that's made with milk. No, coconut milk doesn't count.) Does that mean people living in these countries don't get enough calcium? No. They simply substitute high-calcium foods such as greens or soy products for milk.

A second solution for people who don't make enough lactase is to use a predi-gested milk product such as yogurt or buttermilk or sour cream, all made by adding friendly bacteria that digest the milk (that is, break the lactose apart) without spoiling it. Other solutions include lactose-free cheeses and enzyme-treated milk.

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