The three macronutrients that provide energy for your body are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are readily converted into blood sugar (glucose) and routed around the body to supply energy to our muscles and other organs. One gram of carbohydrate yields four calories of energy.
Types of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates fall into two groups – simple and complex:
- Simple carbohydrates are usually sweet tasting. Refined sugar, dairy sugar, fruit sugar and honey are all sources of simple carbohydrates. They provide calories, but minimal nutritional benefits. They are digested and absorbed quickly, causing your blood sugar (glucose) levels to rise and so making you feel full of energy. A negative effect of this is that your body may respond to elevated blood sugar levels by secreting insulin, a hormone which has the effect of reducing blood sugar levels. A plummeting blood sugar level may make you feel weak and tired. Simple carbohydrates should be consumed in moderation to prevent these abrupt swings in blood sugar level.
- Complex carbohydrates include starch and fiber. These are digested slowly to produce simple carbohydrates which are then absorbed by your body. The resulting rise in blood sugar after a meal rich in complex carbohydrates is much slower then after a meal containing simple carbohydrates. Rice, beans, pasta, wheat products, grains and potatoes are rich in starchy, complex carbohydrates. Fibrous complex carbohydrates are the indigestible portions of plant material that are low in calories, but are essential for healthy digestion. Most vegetables and fruits contain fibrous carbohydrates.
Why Do I Need Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are a readily available source of energy that help:
- keep muscles moving;
- maintain a normal blood sugar level to "feed" our brain. Unlike muscles, the brain cannot store its own glucose;
- keep up the serotonin level in our brain. Serotonin is a chemical that produces a feeling of calm, improved mood and reduces appetite.
How to Eat Enough Carbohydrates
This is easy if you:
- Start your day with a whole grain cereal breakfast. Whole wheat, oats and barley are the best sources of complex carbohydrates.
- Use whole-grain breads for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat or other whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Substitute whole wheat bread for regular white bread.
- Substitute rice cakes for cereal bars.
- Substitute whole-wheat pasta for regular pasta.
- Substitute brown rice for regular white rice.
- Add wheat germ and oats to your cereal.
- Add chopped fruit to your cereals, salads and stews.
- Keep refined foods to a minimum.
Low carbohydrate diets lack important nutrients such as Vitamin E, thiamin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Weight and digestive problems can result when carbohydrates are reduced too much. A low carbohydrate diet lacks the fiber that is needed to prevent constipation. In addition, dietary fiber helps reduce overeating by promoting a feeling of fullness and so a diet lacking in fiber can result in weight gain.
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