Carbohydrates: What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the major energy source for the body. Carbohydrates provide energy for normal body functions (such as heartbeat, breathing, digestion, and brain activity) and for exercise (like biking, walking, running). Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram. A supply of carbohydrates is necessary to maintain health and a must if your goal is to reduce your body fat and enhance your fitness level. There are two major groups of carbohydrate; complex carbohydrate and simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are chains of three or more sugar molecules linked together. Long chains of sugar molecules are called starches. Branched complex carbohydrates are called cellulose. Starches are fairly easy to digest. However, your body doesn’t digest cellulose, which is an important component of dietary fiber. Complex carbo-hydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.
Some examples of foods high in starchy complex carbohydrates include:
- dry beans
Green vegetables like green beans, broccoli, and spinach contain less starch and more fiber. All grains include starchy carbohydrates. However, whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta, are better for you because they also have more dietary fiber.
Dietary fiber is only found in plants. We eat plants but we cannot digest the fiber. There are two types of dietary fiber: insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.
● Insoluble fiber is the type of fiber found in high fiber foods like whole grains, nuts, wheat bran and vegetables. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water so it helps to move material through the colon faster. This can be very helpful to people who suffer from constipation or irregularity. Diets high in insoluble fiber also decrease the risk of diabetes.
● Soluble fiber is also found in many high fiber foods like oats, citrus fruits, apples, barley, flax seeds and beans. Soluble fiber absorbs water and helps to soften the stools. A diet high in soluble fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol.
Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugar molecules linked together. These carbohydrates are broken down and digested very quickly. Most simple carbohydrates contain very few important vitamins and minerals. Simple carbohydrate foods include table sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, and candy.
Fruit juice, fruits and milk are also foods that contain simple carbohydrates. However, they also contain some complex carbohydrates, such as dietary fiber, as well as, some important vitamins and minerals.
There are many simple sugars added to foods and beverages. Although they may enhance the taste and/or texture they also add extra unwanted calories. The following table is a list of “added sugars”.
Fruit Juice Concentrates
High-Fructose Corn Syrup