Carbohydrates are a component of the diet that provides energy to the body through calories. The energy value of digestible carbohydrates is four calories per gram. Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients your body needs.
There are different types of carbohydrates: some are found naturally in food and others are made to be included in processed foods. Foods rich in carbohydrates include, for example, cereals, fruits, pasta, bread and pastries.
Learn about the different types of carbohydrates to make healthier eating decisions.
Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and are classified in different ways. The most exact way is by the chemical structure: The sugars are classified in monosaccharides and disaccharides and the carbohydrates more complex in polysaccharides or oligosaccharides.
There are three basic types of carbohydrates found in food, with a fourth category as well.
Also called “simple carbohydrates”, these are simple sugar molecules like glucose, fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose, which are known as monosaccharides.
When two of these molecules unite, they are called disaccharides. An example of a disaccharide is sucrose – or table sugar – which is made up of glucose and fructose molecules. Another example is lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is made up of glucose and galactose together.
Starches are polysaccharides or “complex carbohydrates”, made up of long chains of glucose. Your body breaks down starches – some faster than others – into glucose to produce energy.
A special starch, called resistant starch, can be particularly valuable for weight loss and colon health.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in cellulose from plant foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Dietary fiber can be soluble or insoluble and passes through the body without being fully digested. This means that fewer calories are absorbed by the body, although research is underway on the exact amount of calories that different types of fiber provide.
Fiber is not used by the body for energy, which is why grams of fiber are often listed separately in the carbohydrate category on nutrition labels. Although dietary fiber is not used for energy, it has a beneficial role in digestion and metabolism.
This fourth category of carbohydrates is between sugars and starches. Oligosaccharides are a fermentable combination of simple sugars that have positive effects in our colon and are considered prebiotics.
Your age, gender, height and weight are taken into account in the daily recommendation of the number of calories and carbohydrates you should consume each day. Your physical activity level will also play an important role: The more active you are, the more energy you burn and the more calories you need.
In general, the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that men consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. Men who are younger and more active need more calories. Older men and those who are less active need fewer calories. Women generally need 1,600 to 2,000 calories a day.
It is further recommended that 45 to 65% of these calories come from carbohydrates. For a 2,000 calorie diet, this represents about 900 to 1,300 calories from carbohydrates or 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates.
High and low quality carbohydrates
Sometimes people talk about “good” and “bad” carbohydrates. Often complex carbohydrates are considered “good”, and simple and refined carbohydrates are considered “bad”.
Although some carbohydrates are more nutritious, it is not always useful to label a food as good or bad.
It can be helpful to understand the characteristics of complex, simple, and refined carbohydrates to find out how each one can fit into your diet.
Complex carbohydrates contain at least three sugars. Oligosaccharides contain between three and ten units of simple sugar. Polysaccharides can contain hundreds of saccharides.
Complex carbohydrates such as legumes, whole grains, starchy vegetables, pasta and bread provide the body with relatively sustained energy.
What are complex carbohydrates?
Simple carbohydrates are made up of one (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide) units of sugar. Simple sugars include fructose, sucrose, glucose, maltose and lactose.
Simple carbohydrates include the carbohydrates found in table sugar, candy, honey and syrups; they provide fast energy.
Refined carbohydrates are usually the carbohydrates found in processed foods and drinks. These foods often contain sugar, fats, sodium and added preservatives to improve taste or shelf life.
Although they can be artificially fortified with vitamins and minerals, these foods often lack the nutrients available in whole foods. Foods such as processed baked goods, processed potato products and candy fall into this category.
Why you should cut down on refined carbs
According to Harvard Medical School, it is the quality of the carbohydrates you eat that contributes to a healthy diet. For example, poor-quality carbohydrates are quickly digested, which often leads to spikes in blood sugar and a temporary feeling of satiety. The fiber and nutrients found in whole foods can compensate for the conversion of starches and sugars into glucose, which prevents dramatic energy spikes and appetites.
In the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends switching to increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy products to increase the consumption of calcium and dietary fiber. He also recommends giving up sugars added to drinks, snacks and sweets.
To improve the quality of carbohydrates in your diet, choose more whole grains and limit foods that contain added sugars. To improve the quality of carbohydrates in your diet, choose more whole grains and limit foods with added sugars. Cooking food from scratch at home and eating mostly whole food, rather than processed food, can be a big help.
The popularity of some fad diets and other sources of misinformation has led to the promotion of certain carbohydrate myths.
Carbohydrates cause weight gain
Many people choose to follow a low-carb diet to lose weight. While some low-carb diets are effective for some people, that doesn’t mean the carbs cause weight gain.
Excessive consumption of calories leads to weight gain. The consumption of certain types of carbohydrates can indirectly contribute to the over-consumption of calories.
For example, if you eat a breakfast of highly processed sugary foods, you may be hungry soon after eating and eating again. Choosing a breakfast that contains fiber and protein, on the other hand, will keep you full and not eat again before lunchtime.
Low-carb diets are the most effective
Many people choose to follow a low-carbohydrate diet to lose weight or to manage a medical condition such as type 2 diabetes. For them, a low-carbohydrate diet is the best way to achieve their health or fitness goals. well-being.
But studies have shown that the most effective diet for you is one that you can follow for the long haul. And even when you manage a medical problem, you must find a program that you will join.
Many people see the benefits of following a low-carb diet because it eliminates less healthy foods, such as candy, sugary drinks, and processed foods.
Carbohydrates are the body’s only source of fuel
The main use of carbohydrates in the body is energy, but carbohydrates are not the only food source. Fats can not only provide energy, but they are also the primary storage medium for the body. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Reference Dietary Guide, you can live without eating carbohydrates as long as you eat adequate amounts of protein and fat.
“The lower limit of dietary carbohydrates compatible with life is apparently zero, provided you consume adequate amounts of protein and fat.”
Your body can make the amount of glucose necessary for survival (the Institute of Medicine has estimated it to be about 22 to 28 grams per day) through a process called gluconeogenesis. It is a synthesis of glucose, mainly from proteins.