Carbs 101

Carbs 101

If you think all carbohydrates are “bad,” you need to reexamine your assumptions.

What are carbohydrates?

The word “carbohydrate” is a broad term used to describe a large number of different compounds that are all composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The main forms of carbohydrates are called monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides, and fibre.

Simple versus complex

In general, sugars are referred to as simple carbohydrates and starches as complex carbohydrates. All carbohydrates, simple or complex are source of energy..

Simple carbs are so named because they are made up of monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are simple molecules. Simple carbohydrates are found in foods such as honey, corn syrup, table sugar, dairy and some fruits and vegetables, including fruit juice.

Complex carbs get their name from the fact that they are made up of polysaccharides, which are bigger, more complex molecules. Foods such as some vegetables and fruits, grains and whole grains contain complex carbohydrates. Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds also contain complex carbohydrates.

Why do you need carbs?

Carbohydrates represent the main source of energy in the human diet, supplying the base our cells use to make energy. In the body, carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, which is used to generate energy (carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram). Not eating enough carbohydrates forces your body to make glucose from other body tissues, primarily muscle.

Fibre is a carbohydrate that can promote regularity and help lower blood cholesterol.

Fibre in carbs

Fibre is essentially the indigestible portion of the carbohydrate and can be classified into two forms—soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre easily disperses in water, forming a viscous gel and has two subsets: gums and pectin. Insoluble fibre does not disband in water but moves through the digestive tract intact, promoting regular bowel movements. Soluble fibre is found in oats, legumes, apples, barley and citrus fruits while insoluble fibre can be found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, beans and vegetables.

How many carbs should I eat?

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that carbohydrates provide a range of 45 to 65% of your calories per day, with no more than 25% coming from added sugars. In addition, the IOM recommends that both children and adults eat at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day to ensure that the brain has enough energy to function.

Choosing carbohydrates

When choosing carbs, variety is the name of the game. Let's face it, carbohydrates come from many great foods, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, peas and dairy. As well as providing carbohydrates these foods also provide vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and phytochemicals. Be sure to include around 50% of your calories from carbohydrates.

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