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October 17, 2008 at 8:49 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Carbohydrates 101

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are made up of one or more sugar molecules. They are found in bread, pasta, rice, vegetables, dairy products, sweets, etc. The most common forms of carbohydrates are starches, sugars, and fibers. The human digestive system breaks all carbohydrates down into simple sugar molecules, primarily glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for all the body's cells.

What Is the Difference between Simple and Complex Carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates are all the single sugars molecules. This includes everything from highly processed table sugar to the natural sugar found in fruits. Any carbohydrate consisting of three or more linked sugar molecules is considered a complex carbohydrate. For a long time, common wisdom held that all complex carbohydrates were good for you. This meant that people were eating a lot of bread, pasta and rice. However, research has revealed that the picture is far more complex. In fact, the carbohydrates that are healthiest for you are those found in vegetables (except potatoes), fruits, and whole grains.

How Are Whole Grain Foods Different?

How is whole grain bread different from white bread? Whole grain bread is made from flour that is made with the entire wheat kernel, including the husk, whereas white flour does not contain this outer component. It turns out that this outer layer is high in fiber. High fiber carbohydrates promote good health, whereas those low in fiber may lead to an increased risk of conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Whole grain foods to incorporate into your diet include:

  • whole grain bread and pasta
  • whole oats
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • bulgur
  • wheat berries
  • millet
  • barley

Whole grain product are now widely available, and many tasty recipes call for whole grain products, so eating healthy is easier than ever.

What Is Fiber?

If whole grain products are healthy because of their high fiber contents, then what exactly is fiber, and why is it so good for you? Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is structured in such a way that your body can't break it down. Consequently, it passes through the body without being digested. This means that it doesn't provide any nutritional value. However, fiber helps the digestive system by providing bulk to push foods through, removing excess fats from the intestines, and controlling hunger. It also slows the body's absorption of sugars. When sugar is absorbed gradually, instead of all at once, it creates a sustained rise in energy over the course of several hours, rather than the abrupt spike that comes of eating things like sweets and white bread. High blood sugar levels can damage the organs and tissues, so the body is forced to quickly use or store the sugar. Repeated sugar spikes over the course of many years have been linked to diabetes and overweight. Because sugar from high-fiber carbohydrates is absorbed gradually, there is no pressure on the body to take immediate action in order to get it out of the bloodstream. Instead, it can mobilize a more gradual and healthy response.

What Part Do Carbohydrates Play in a Healthy Diet?

Carbohydrates should form the bulk of your diet. They are the body's best source of fuel. Just make sure that most of your carbohydrates come from healthy sources such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains along with providing your body with a good, steady source of energy, also contain many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Sources:

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