Carbohydrates - fiber, starches and sugars - are essential nutrients in the human diet. This blog post is designed to help you understand what they are, how our bodies use them, and where you can find them in your day-to-day life.
Carbohydrates can be divided into three types: sugars, starches and fiber. Sugars are found in fruits and refined grains; starches are found in potatoes, cereal grains and legumes; fiber is found primarily in plants foods such as vegetables and fruits or plant products like whole-grain breads, cereals or pasta. The role of carbohydrates is to provide energy for your body along with other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and protein. Some carbohydrates are digested by the body faster than others, which helps you regulate blood sugar levels. This is particularly useful in maintaining energy levels and a stable mood.
Carbohydrates serve three main functions in a healthy diet:
1. Provide energy for your daily activities. In order to function effectively, all of your cells, especially your muscles and brain cells, need oxygen to burn fuel (carbohydrates). Metabolic reactions are divided into fast and slow reactions. The fast reactions (glycolysis) involve the breakdown of carbohydrates into pyruvic acid and acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl CoA), which is burned as a substrate for the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP acts like a molecular currency for energy. Slow reactions (oxidation) involve the breakdown of glucose for energy production, breaking it down into carbon dioxide, water and ATP.
2. Provide structure and function to different parts of your body. Carbohydrates are used as structural components for your skeleton and connective tissues as well as being a source of fuel for fat metabolism by your peripheral tissues such as skeletal muscles and cells of the immune system.
3. Help maintain your blood sugar levels within a healthy range. A healthy diet includes a balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to promote good health. Hormones such as insulin play an important role in balancing the amount of sugar and fat that is absorbed by the body
Plants have evolved to be able to grow in adverse conditions. They have developed complex carbohydrate-rich tissues that help defend against adverse growing stresses in times of food shortage such as drought, extreme heat or cold, or poor nutrients such as water shortage.
Carbohydrates are found throughout plants and play a vital role in their structure and function. Carbohydrates are categorized according to their chemical structure:
Fiber provides an insoluble structure that promotes increased bulk and stability while also trapping toxins so they cannot leach into your system. It also adds bulk to your diet and slows down the digestion process. The average person should consume 20-30 grams of fiber daily.
Fruits have an insoluble structure that contains high amounts of insoluble fiber, which is not easily broken down by digestion. The average adult should consume 25-35 grams of fruit daily.
Starchy foods like potatoes and whole grains have a readily digestible starch as their main carbohydrate component, which is made up of long chains of simple sugars (monosaccharides). Starch provides a digestive food for your body and is essential in the formation of glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate energy used by your cells. The average person should consume 50-70 grams of starchy foods daily.
Fruits and vegetables contain both soluble and insoluble fibers that provide a bulking action when eaten. They are also rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help prevent you from contracting certain diseases including cancers and heart disease. The average person should consume 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Sugars are found primarily in fruits and refined grains. Their sole purpose is to attract water sources from the surrounding soil; this enables a plant to absorb more water from its surroundings so it can grow larger in size. Sugars are also important for the human body as a source of energy for your body. The average person should consume 35-40 grams of sugars daily.
Starches are derived from plants and include complex carbohydrates that contain long chains of simple sugars (monosaccharides). These simple sugars are the raw materials of glycogen, which is used by our cells as fuel, or stored energy. As they break down they produce glucose, which is an essential source of energy for our bodies. The average person should consume 100 grams of starches daily.
Fiber allows plants to survive through adverse growing conditions such as drought, excessive heat and cold, or poor nutrients such as lack of water or essential minerals. The average person should consume 20 grams of fibers daily.
Whole grains have the whole seed intact and have a high protein, fat, and carbohydrate content. The average adult should eat 5 servings of whole grains daily.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are considered an important part of a healthy diet for all stages of life. Carbohydrates provide us with energy and help maintain the health of our bodies. Good nutrition allows us to grow, learn and achieve our goals throughout our entire lives so the next generation can thrive in a healthy environment.
As we grow older and use less energy, we lose muscle mass along with energy production; this is where consuming carbohydrates becomes important for your daily activities to maintain good health as you age. As you age, you should consume a diet in which carbohydrates are the main source of your daily intake.
To maintain good health throughout our lives, we should strive to eat as many vegetables, fruits and whole grains as possible; these combine great taste with the added benefit of being an excellent source of nutrients. As you age and use less energy, we need carbohydrates in our diets to support a healthy life. Throughout our lives, we should strive to consume a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are important for the body because they are essential for healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system, certain hormones and enzymes in the body, and our immune system. They provide energy to fuel body processes and help muscles function. They also provide bulk in foods so your digestive system has a place to put them before they are fully digested; this also slows down digestion which helps keep you feeling full longer with fewer calories consumed.
As you age, you need more carbohydrates in your diet as muscle mass thin out; this is where eating carbohydrates becomes important for maintaining nutritional support throughout your life. When choosing carbohydrates, it is important to focus on a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet for all stages of life. A balanced meal consists of both carbohydrates and proteins, which provide body fuel to maintain good health as we age.
As you age, your body needs more time to digest foods, thus absorbing fewer nutrients from these foods. This can cause illness or disease if you do not consume enough restorative carbohydrates in your diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies throughout your life-time.
There are different types of dietary fibers that vary in their biological effects; the type of fiber one consumes determines how well their digestive system works to digest food and what the body can absorb.
Fibers with a high water-soluble content, such as pectin, increase digestive activity in your intestines and help decrease the time it takes for food to move through your system. These fibers also prevent constipation. Soluble fibers are found in fruits and are recommended for diabetics or those who have a hard time digesting foods.
Eating insoluble fibers promotes regular bowel movements and helps prevent constipation; it also keeps your intestines from absorbing too many vitamins and minerals from your food, keeping the body well-nourished. Insoluble fibers can be found in seeds, nuts, whole grains and vegetables like green beans.
In addition to fat and water, carbohydrates also provide other nutrients that are essential for your body. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These nutrients help prevent illness and disease early in life and also support your cells in growth, repair and longevity of your body.
Whole grain foods are high in fiber; they not only provide you with the energy rich foods needed to grow, but also help keep your digestive system moving through the day providing a healthy balance of nutrients that create a well-balanced diet throughout life.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are essential for a healthy diet. The best way to decrease risk for chronic disease and improve longevity is to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Eating an adequate amount of carbohydrates throughout your life can help prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases, including diabetes.
When you perform strength exercises or bodybuilding workouts, muscle growth is the result of an increase in protein synthesis. These increases in protein synthesis fuel muscle growth because amino acids in muscle tissue need to be broken down into smaller building blocks for cells called peptides. The building blocks are then used by cells within our muscles to synthesize larger amounts of amino acids which power contraction and growth of new muscle fibers as your workouts progress.
The best way to get the body to use these new amino acids is to consume more carbs. When working out, your body needs carbohydrates as a main source of fuel for muscle growth and repair; it also helps with body fat synthesis.
When you have a fast rate of glycogen depletion or muscle catabolism, the body needs a large amount of protein to break down into amino acids for growth and repair of skeletal muscle fibres.
Carbohydrates are essential in rebuilding muscles after strenuous workouts because they provide the main source of energy needed by the body to power protein synthesis; this ultimately causes muscle growth.
Meal frequency has been studied numerous times in relation to weight loss or weight gain. The "More is Better" diet is a popular diet that encourages eating five to six small meals per day in order to help the body burn fat faster and lose weight.
Studies have shown that eating more frequent meals does not burn more calories; indeed, it can even slow your metabolism by confusing the body into thinking it is hungry for more food.
Eating small frequent meals can also encourage overeating and make you prone to weight gain instead of maintaining a healthy body weight. Eating large meals less often has been proven to initiate a slower metabolic rate because the body preserves energy by slowing down digestion when there is no immediate need for it, therefore saving energy in storage form as fat.
Foods that are rich in carbs include bread, rice, pasta and grains. Fruits, vegetables and milk products also contain carbs.
These foods do not contain many carbohydrates but do contain some:
Carbohydrates provide your body with the energy needed to complete daily activities without getting tired during the day. Carbohydrates also provide your body with a way to store extra energy so it can be reused when it's needed most: when you need fuel for strenuous workouts or sports activities.
Foods containing carbohydrates should be a part of every meal throughout the day in order to keep the body satisfied without overeating, which is prone to cause weight gain rather than weight loss.
Eating fat is essential to staying healthy. Fat is part of your diet because it provides you with the fatty acids that your body needs in order to function.
Fatty acids are useful in fighting off diseases as they serve as immune system builders, help build tissues and hormones, and maintain body temperature.
In addition to helping you stay healthy, fat also helps provide you with energy. Each gram of fat provides more than twice the amount of energy than a gram of either carbohydrates or proteins. Eating fats prevents extreme hunger cravings and promotes satiety so your body does not crave for foods high in carbohydrates or sugars.
High glycemic foods are carbohydrate-rich foods that cause an increase in blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high glycemic index generally have a high GI or glycemic load. The GI of a food may help you maintain your weight or prevent weight gain by regulating the amount and types of carbohydrates you eat.
The term "glycemic index" is based on the reaction of carbohydrates to the body's digestive system. The higher the glycemic index, the more quickly your body takes the glucose from food and converts it into energy for your body's function. The GI of a certain food varies from one person to another, depending on the body's ability to produce insulin and the amount of other nutrients you eat in combination with the glycemic food.
The table below demonstrates how different types of carbohydrates affect your blood sugar level. On average, foods that are rich in fiber and protein contain less carbohydrates and have lower GI values than low-fiber foods.
Foods that are rich in fat include meat, olive oil, butter and cheese.
Foods that are high in fat but do not contain many carbohydrates include:
The table below demonstrates how different types of fats affect blood sugar level. On average, vegetable oils have a similar glucose response and GI value to foods that contain carbohydrates.
The glycemic index is a ranking system that classifies carbohydrate-rich foods according to their effect on blood sugar level when they are consumed. The body's glucose levels rise after eating high glycemic foods and fall after eating lower carb foods. Carbohydrates with low GI values cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels than those with higher GI values. Foods rich in fiber and protein cause more gradual changes in blood sugar level, thus promoting weight loss, whereas foods that are high in refined sugars cause rapid increases in glucose level, resulting in weight gain.
The glycemic load is a category that classifies carbohydrate-rich foods according to the amount of carbohydrate they contain. The table below provides a list of some high glycemic load foods and their corresponding GI or glycemic index values.
The nutrient density is another category that classifies carbohydrate-rich foods according to the nutrients they contain. The table below provides a list of some high nutrient dense carbohydrate rich foods and their corresponding GI or glycemic index values.
Interactions between carbohydrates, proteins and fats are vital in maintaining a healthy diet, promoting weight loss or weight gain, and managing one's blood sugar level despite varying levels of carbohydrates consumed in different meals throughout the day.
The combinaison of carbohydrates, proteins and fats can have a significant impact on blood sugar level, but only if you choose the right combinations.
Consuming foods high in fiber (usually found in carbohydrate-rich whole grains) help regulate the body's glucose level and prevent an increase in blood sugar within two hours after eating. Fiber helps slow down glucose absorption from carbohydrate-rich food. The slower absorption rate prevents a rapid spike in blood glucose level following meals and prevents hunger cravings shortly afterward. This is because fiber takes longer to digest than other types of carbohydrates like sugar.
Fiber also regulates your digestion by making you feel full for longer periods of time, therefore curbing your appetite. Fiber slows down the rate at which the stomach empties, so food remains in your stomach for a longer period of time, which encourages satiety and prevents overeating. The body also absorbs more of the nutrients from high fiber foods than it does from refined sugars or simple carbohydrates.
Consuming foods high in protein (usually found in meat, eggs, fish, nuts and beans) is equally as important to controlling blood sugar and preventing weight gain as consuming foods rich in fiber. Protein helps stabilize blood sugar levels by increasing the amount of insulin released by your pancreas to keep glucose levels within normal ranges following meals. These normal levels of insulin help prevent an increase in blood sugar and hunger cravings.
Excess fat can put you at risk to gain weight, so it is important to balance the amount of protein you consume with the amount of carbohydrates to maintain weight loss or maintenance. High-protein diets that are high in carbs can result in weight loss or maintenance for a short period of time. When too much protein is consumed, the body does not store as many energy-producing glycogen molecules that it would be able to store if only a moderate amount of carbohydrates were consumed daily. Instead, the glycogen stores are converted to glucose and fatty acids by the liver, which then converts fatty acids into triglycerides for storage in fat cells. This can potentially result in weight gain if you consume high amounts of protein without combining it with a healthy amount of carbohydrates.
Examples of some carbohydrate-rich foods that provide a wide range of nutrients include whole grains, fruits (especially those high in fiber), vegetables, beans and dairy products.
High-protein foods that provide a wide range of nutrients include meat (especially chicken or turkey with skin removed), eggs, fish and nuts.
Healthy fats are also necessary to maintaining a balanced diet and preventing weight gain. Examples of such fats are olive oil, butter and avocado. Other healthy fats to consider include coconut oil, nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocados and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring).
It is important to pay attention to the amount of carbohydrates consumed daily. Generally speaking, the higher your carb intake is in relation to protein and fat intake, the greater risks there are for gaining weight. For instance, foods like candy bars contain a large amount of simple carbohydrates and can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels for several hours following consumption.
Consider what you eat throughout the day.