What are Carbohydrates?

Already, you may be reconsidering whether you want to read another article on how you must stop eating your beloved breads, pastas, and desserts. It’s true, these foods are among carb-lover’s favorites, but what you should know is that carbohydrates are extremely important for your well-being. In fact, they are the largest food group and should make up about 45-65% of your daily nutritional intake.

But what are carbohydrates? Good question. Carbohydrates are an energy providing macronutrient yielding about 4 calories per gram. It may not seem like a lot, but carbs are your body’s main source of energy and it helps fuel your kidneys, heart, muscles, and most importantly, your brain. You see, most of your body’s organs can pull energy from other macronutrients like fats and proteins, but your brain can only use glucose, a common carbohydrate. Consuming low levels of glucose brings your blood sugar down and can lead to poor attention and cognitive function.

So, if carbohydrates are so important for your health, then why are you constantly told to stop eating them? Like fats, there are different types of carbohydrates and choosing the right kinds can make a big difference in your weight loss journey.

 

Simple Vs. Complex Carbs

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Besides their differences in chemical structure, their main distinction is how quickly each is digested and absorbed.

Simple Carbohydrates

Like it sounds, simple carbohydrates are sugar in its simplest form, meaning your body digests it easily and quickly and you’ll want to stay away from them!

Simple carbs consist of the monosaccharides and disaccharides. Some common types of monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Glucose is mainly found in your blood stream and is your body’s first choice for energy production. Others like fructose, are found in fruit and honey, and galactose in dairy. When you combine any two monosaccharides, the molecules metabolize into a disaccharide.

Disaccharides mainly consist of maltose, sucrose, and lactose. Sound familiar? They should! These sugars are present in many of your everyday foods. Maltose is a sugar that is created after breaking down starch foods, sucrose is your common table sugar, and lactose is milk sugar.

It is important to learn how to stay away from these dangerous sugars. In the United States, only sucrose can be called sugar. All other types of sweeteners, which are also considered dangerous carbohydrates, cannot be called sugar. So, when you see “sugar free” on the front of your cereal box, become curious and read the label. An easy way to remember these forms of sugar is by their –OSE endings. Remember, -OSE means sugar, and “Sugar-Free” doesn’t mean “Carb-Free”.

 

Complex Carbohydrates- the Good Guys

For the most part, complex carbohydrates are your friend. Unlike simple carbohydrates, these carbs take longer to breakdown and digest which therefore, allows your body to feel full with less calories.

Common types of complex carbs are glycogen, starch, and fiber. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in animals and is found in the liver, and starch is the storage form of glucose in plants. On the contrary, dietary fiber is an indigestible part of food and they come in two types; soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps us feel full and can primarily be found in nuts, berries, and beans. Insoluble fiber helps us expel waste and can be found in grains, and leafy vegetables. Consuming fiber is a great addition for a weight loss diet.

Eating the right types and the right amount of carbs is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Eventually, all carbohydrates, besides fiber, are metabolized into its simple form, glucose. Unfortunately, there is limit to how much glycogen can be stored before it turns to fat. The body limits its intake of glucose at 500-1200 grams. Let’s discuss what food sources are the best and worst to maintain a healthy balance of glucose.

 

Main Sources of Carbs

Carbohydrates are present in many foods, but a good indicator of a good wholesome food is if it provides multiple macronutrients such as fats and proteins, and micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

 

List of Bad Carbs

- Soda

- Fruit Juice

- Dried Fruit

- Baked goods

- White Bread

- Candy Bars

- Cereals

- Specialty Drinks- coffee, milkshakes

- Condiments- BBQ Sauce, and Ketchup

- Health Bars

 

List of Good Carbs

- Avocado,

- Legumes

- Apples

- Broccoli

- Nuts

- Berries

- Greek Yogurt

- Leafy Veggies

- Sweet Potatoes

- Cauliflower

- Asparagus

 

No Need to Give Up Carbs

As you’ve learned, carbohydrates are good for you and they can help you feel satisfied and healthy after a meal! Sure, you may have to give up squirting ketchup on everything or asking for bread sticks at your favorite restaurant, but there are much better and yummier options out there! Try incorporating some of the good carbs into your diet and even into your workout routines. If you are trying to get stronger, eat a portion of carbs before your workout to achieve more reps. And overall, if you are on a weight loss journey, mix high fiber foods and proteins to lower your calorie intake.

 

It isn’t an easy sacrifice, but it is possible! Comment below your favorite healthy carb!

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