How Does the Body Respond to Liquid Carbs?

Smiling blonde drinking glass of orange juice
A womanu is drinking a glass of orange juice. (Image: 4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images)

Carbohydrates constitute a quick source of energy for the human body. Although solid foods, such as pasta, potatoes, rice, breakfast cereals and desserts, are the main sources of carbs in the American diet, many Americans also consume a significant portion of carbs from liquids. Liquid carbs are in juices, energy drinks, soft drinks, specialty coffees, chocolate milk and yogurt drinks. Your body's response to liquid carbs is similar to its response to regular carbs, but quicker and more intense.

Digestion

When you eat carbohydrates, whether they are in solid foods or liquids, the carbs go from your mouth down to your stomach, where they are mixed with acid. This process takes less time after you ingest liquid carbs, compared to the digestion of solid carbs. Liquid carbs pass to your small intestine rapidly. As a result, your body absorbs the liquid carbs more quickly than the carbs in solid foods.

Higher Carb Intake and Absence of Fiber

One of the main problems with liquid carbs is that it is easy to consume large amounts at once. For example, it is easy to drink a large glass of orange juice in a matter of minutes, but it would take you a lot more time to eat the five to six oranges the juice is equivalent to. Moreover, liquid carbs are almost always free of fiber, which makes them less satiating than solid foods. The fact that juices, soft drinks and other sugary beverages do not contain fiber contributes to accelerating their digestion and absorption in your body.

Blood Sugar and Weight

The sugar derived from liquid carbs is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream and causes your blood sugar level to rise quickly. Blood sugar spikes can be a problem if you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome. To deal with high blood sugar, your body responds by secreting insulin, which makes the extra sugar circulating in your blood enter your cells. If your cells have more sugar than they need, they will convert the extra sugar to fat and store it. Consuming a lot of liquid carbs can put your body in fat storage mode, preventing weight loss and causing weight gain.

Hunger and Cravings

Even if you do not have blood sugar problems, liquid carbs can make your blood sugar fluctuate more than usual, resulting in uneven energy levels. You may feel like you have a lot of energy within a few minutes of consuming liquid calories, but this effect is usually followed by a crash in your energy level within 30 to 60 minutes. When you crash, you are more likely to feel hungry and crave more carbs and sugar, perpetuating this unhealthy cycle.

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