Nutrients - 'Carbohydrates.'
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. They are the sugars, starches, and dietary fibre that occur in plant foods and dairy products.
Carbohydrates are mainly found in plant foods. They also occur in dairy products in the form of a milk sugar called lactose. Foods high in carbohydrates include:
*Grains, such as bread, noodles, pasta, crackers, cereals, and rice
*Fruits, such as apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, melons, and oranges
*Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt
*Legumes, including dried beans, lentils, and peas
*Snack foods and sweets, such as cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts
*Juices, regular sodas, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks that contain sugar
*Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and peas
Some foods don't have a lot of carbohydrates, such as meat, fish, poultry, some types of cheese, nuts, and oils
The amount of carbs we should consume is a highly debated topic.
The dietary guidelines suggest that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates.
On the other hand, some claim that carbs may lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes and that most people should limit them in their diets.
While there are good arguments on both sides, there is no denying that our bodies need carbohydrates to work well.
This article takes a detailed look at carbs, their health effects, and how you can make the best choices for yourself.
What are carbs?
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are molecules that have carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.
In nutrition, the word “carbs” refers to one of the three macronutrients. The other two are protein and fat.
Dietary carbohydrates have three main categories:
*Sugars. These are sweet, short-chain carbohydrates found in foods. Examples are glucose, fructose, galactose, and sucrose.
*Starches. These are long chains of glucose molecules, which eventually get broken down into glucose in the digestive system.
*Fibre. Humans cannot digest fibre, but the bacteria in the digestive system can make use of some types. Plus, eating fibre is vital to your overall health.
One of the primary purposes of carbohydrates in our diet is to provide fuel for our bodies.
Most carbs get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy. Carbs can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use.
Fibre is an exception. It doesn’t provide energy directly, but it does feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria can use the fibre to produce fatty acids that some of our cells can use as energy.
Sugar alcohols are also classified as carbohydrates. They taste sweet but usually don’t provide many calories. They don’t tend to be nutritive.
There is a lot of information around about carbs, keep in mind that not all carbs are created equal.
There are many different types of carbohydrate-containing foods, and they can vary in their health effects.
Carbs are sometimes referred to as “simple” versus “complex” or “whole” versus “refined.”
Whole carbs are minimally processed and contain the fibre found naturally in the food, while refined carbs have been processed more and have had the natural fibre removed or changed.
Examples of whole carbs include:
On the other hand, refined carbs include:
*other items made with white flour
Numerous research show that refined carbohydrate consumption is associated with health conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Refined carbohydrates tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to a subsequent crash that can trigger hunger and lead to food cravings.
They’re usually also lacking in many essential nutrients. In other words, they’re “empty” calories.
There are also added sugars, which should be limited as diets high in added sugars are linked to an increased risk of many different chronic diseases.
While it is important to limit refined carbs and added sugars, whole carbs should be a part of a balanced diet.
Whole food sources of carbohydrates are loaded with nutrients and fibre and don’t cause the same spikes and dips in blood sugar levels.
Research on high fibre carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, show that eating them is linked to improved metabolic health and a lower risk of disease.
Low carb diet conundrum
No discussion about carbs is complete without mentioning low carb diets.
Just because low carb diets can be useful for weight loss for some individuals, they’re not the answer for everyone.
‘Carbs’ are not the cause of obesity
Humans have been eating carbs long before the obesity epidemic, and there are many examples of populations that have remained in excellent health while eating diets high in carbs.
Carbs are not ‘essential,’ but many carb-containing foods are incredibly healthy
Many people following a low carb diet claim that carbs are not an essential nutrient.
This may be true to an extent, but they’re a critical component of a balanced diet.
Carbohydrates are not an “essential” nutrient.
However, many carb-rich plant foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients, so avoiding them may not leave you feeling your best.
How to make the right choices
Carbohydrates in their natural, fibre-rich form are generally healthy, while those stripped of their fibre are not.
Processed foods with sugar and refined carbs don’t provide the same nutritional benefits as carbs in their natural form and are more likely to lead to negative health outcomes.