Carbs: Easy, ultimate carbohydrate guide
Carbs are bad – it’s a total misunderstanding! Learn about correct information about carbs: easy ultimate guide!
Table of Contents
What’s a carbohydrate?
- Carbohydrate consists of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.
- Carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars, starches, and fiber in food.
- All carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules. Sugar molecules linked together form starches and fiber.
- Carbs (carbohydrates) are one of the 3 basic macronutrients (proteins and fats) that are essential for the body to function properly and must be obtained through diet.
Classifications of carbs
Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. The difference between the two is the chemical structure and how quickly the sugar is absorbed and digested.
1. Simple carbohydrates
- contain just single sugar (monosaccharides) or two sugars (disaccharides)
- Our bodies digest and process simple carbohydrates quickly to be used as energy. It’s good if you want a quick boost before or during an intense workout if it’s been a while since your last meal.
- can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and sugar highs
- Found naturally in foods: fruits, milk, dairy products.
- Found in processed and refined sugars: candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks. However, these foods don’t have vitamins, minerals, or fiber unlike whole foods like fruits. “Empty calories” can lead to weight gain.
- Most of the simple carbs in the American diet are added to foods.
Common simple carbs added to foods
- Sucrose (table sugar)
- Lactose (milk)
- Brown sugar
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Raw sugar
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Simple carb foods to avoid
- Baked goods
- French fries and potato chips
- Ice cream
- Fruit juice concentrate
2. Complex carbohydrates
- Fiber and starches
- Complex carbohydrates (Polysaccharide) have 3 or more sugars.
- pack in more nutrients than simple carbs: higher in fiber for weight management.
- takes much longer for the body to digest promoting healthy bowel movements.
- decreases the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.
- keep you full longer for weight control.
- has a limited effect on our blood sugar levels.
- unlike sugars and starches, fibers are not absorbed in the small intestine and are not converted to glucose. Instead, they pass into the large intestine relatively intact, where they are converted to hydrogen and carbon dioxide, and fatty acids.
- 2 types of fibers: soluble and insoluble. Both kinds of fiber are important.
- Daily recooAdult women – at least 20 g of fiber a day. Men – 30 g a day.
- Whole fruit
- Vegetables – “Nonstarchy vegetables”: generally contain only about 5 g of carbs per cup of raw vegetables, and most of those carbs come from fiber. Amaranth or Chinese spinach, artichoke, asparagus, baby corn, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts. broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, cucumber. onions, mushrooms, peppers, radishes, etc.
- Legumes – green, wax, Italian
- Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts
- Seeds – Chia seeds, pumpkin seed
- Whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereals
Types of fiber
1) Soluble fiber
- dissolves in water. When mixed with water during digestion, this type of fiber becomes a thick, gelatin-like material in our gut moving along the digestive tract and binds with cholesterol and fat to be eliminated.
- found in most fruits, some vegetables: corn, peas, and carrots; oatmeal and oat bran, nuts, seeds, and dry beans.
- can help lower cholesterol (related to heart disease risk) and blood glucose (related to risk for diabetes).
2) Insoluble fiber
- can’t be dissolved in water, which helps the body move waste through the digestive system.
- may help prevent small blood clots that can cause heart attacks or strokes.
- found in whole grains: whole wheat flour, wheat bran, brown rice, whole grain cereals, couscous, most vegetables, and fruits.
Starch is also found in some of the same foods as fiber. The difference is certain foods are considered more starchy (“starchy foods”) than fibrous:
- Legumes – peas, lentils, peanuts, kidney beans
- Vegetables – corn, potatoes, parsnips
- Whole wheat bread
Complex carbs to consume more
- High fiber vegetables – broccoli, leafy greens, and carrots.
- High fiber fruits – apples, berries, and bananas. No canned fruit.
- Legumes (beans) – peas, lentils. Source of fiber, folate, iron, and potassium.
- Whole grains – quinoa, buckwheat, whole wheat noodle. Source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and selenium.
“Whole” vs “Refined” carbs
- Whole carbs are unprocessed and contain the fiber found naturally in the food: vegetables, fruits, legumes
- Refined carbs have been processed and had the natural fiber stripped out: sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, pasta, white rice. They tend to cause major spikes in blood sugar levels with empty calories.
- Added sugars are the absolute worst carbohydrates linking to chronic diseases.
Forms of carbs
Simple sugars are made up of single sugar molecules.
- Glucose (dextrose) is one of the most important forms of sugar used by the body for energy. All other carbs (including other sugars) are converted into glucose during the digestion of food.
Grapes, dried apricots, honey, and soft drinks.
- Foods with fructose (levulose) – most fruit, soft drinks, sports drinks, cakes, chocolate.
- Foods with galactose – yogurt, low-fat mozzarella, avocado, basil, beet, cherries, honey, celery, cherry, kiwifruit, hamburgers (with condiments), plums.
- Foods with ribose – mushrooms, beef, poultry, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, milk, eggs, caviar, herring, and sardines, yogurt.
2 simple sugars are joined together by a chemical bond.
- Sucrose (table sugar) = glucose + fructose
The most common form of sugar from sugar cane or sugar beet.
Soft drinks, cookies, cakes, some fruits (tangerines), sugary cereals.
- Lactose (major sugar in milk) = glucose + galactose
Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Maltose (product of starch digestion) = glucose + glucose
Grains and wheat (wheat, barley, malt, cornmeal, and sweet potatoes etc.)
Any carbohydrate that is made up of more than two simple sugars. Starches and fiber are made up of many simple sugars. Naturally found in some fruits and used commercially in like gum.
- Foods with cellulose – fruits and vegetables (including the skins), wheat bran, and spinach.
- Foods with starch or ‘starchy carbohydrates’ – potatoes, corn, and rice.
- Foods with fiber – split peas, chickpeas, beans, and lentils.
- Foods with gums – vegetable gums (agar agar, guar gum or xanthan gum used primarily as a thickening agent), carrageenan and alginates (used as a vegetable substitute for gelatin).
Functions of carbs
The right kind of carbs provide benefits for your health and your body needs carbs.
- provide the main source of energy for working muscles
- prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism
- provide important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals
- provide fiber for fullness and regularity (weight loss)
- contribute to heart health
- improve gut health
- help cognitive function (brain health) – mood, memory
Sources of carbs
The body can’t produce carbs on its own, so you must consume them via food. Carbohydrates mostly come from plants (fresh produce and grains), lactose from milk, and a small number of sugars in red meat. Not just bread and pasta. Here’s the list of low carb foods.
- minimally processed: from complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- offer nutrition to the body: vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals.
- take longer to be broken down by the body and used for energy.
- low or moderate in calories
- no refined sugars and refined grains
- low in sodium
- low in saturated fat
- low in cholesterol and trans fats
- highly processed: foods made from grains – pastries, bread, noodles, sodas, highly processed foods, white rice, and other white-flour foods.
- High in calories and sugars detrimental to the body
- High in refined grains – white flour
- High in sodium
- Full of refined sugars – corn syrup, sugar
- low in nutrients
- Sometimes high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
Metabolism & carbs
Many of the foods we eat contain carbohydrates and our bodies will metabolize them in 3 main ways:
When our body metabolizes carbohydrates, enzymes in the small intestine break it down into glucose, which is the most efficient source of energy for our muscles, organs, and our brains.
Everything we eat contributes to cell growth, repair, and normal cell functioning. If too much food (energy) is consumed, the body stores this excess in the body. The body constantly monitors the glucose level in the blood and releases insulin to control it.
Low insulin levels allow sugar and other fuels to be released into the blood. High insulin levels drive sugar into muscle, fat, and liver cells where it is stored for future use. If your body has problems producing insulin, responding to insulin, or both, this can result in rising blood sugar to dangerous levels. Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the body can’t regulate blood glucose levels properly.
However, glucose and fructose are metabolized differently. While every cell in the body can use glucose, the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in large amounts. When you have a diet that is high in calories and high in fructose, the liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat.
If the glucose is not immediately needed for energy, the body can store up to 2,000 calories of it in the liver and skeletal muscles in the form of glycogen. Once glycogen stores are full, carbs are stored as fat. When you have insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores, the body will consume protein for fuel, which is problematic (because the body needs protein to make muscles). Using protein instead of carbs for fuel also puts stress on the kidneys.
The most notable exception to the carbohydrate metabolism explained above is dietary fiber. The body can’t digest or absorb dietary fiber like other carbohydrates. Instead, a portion is fermented by colonic gut bacteria. As a result, it passes relatively untouched through the digestive system and is removed in stools.
Glycemic index of carbs
The glycemic index measures how quickly and how much a carbohydrate raises blood sugar.
High-glycemic foods like pastries raise blood sugar highly and rapidly, leaving you feeling “crash” and craving more carbs for another energy fix. Those foods also lead to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancer.
Low-glycemic foods raise it gently and to a lesser degree linking to:
- less weight gain
- better control of diabetes and blood sugar
- healthier blood cholesterol levels
- lower risk of heart disease
- better appetite control
- enhance physical endurance
How to consume carbs healthly
1. Get complex carbs mainly
Pick the right kind of carbs is important: Focus on including complex carbs primarily in your diet from whole foods – fresh produce and grains, not processed carbs. Pick whole wheat and whole grain instead of refined carbs that are stripped of all the nutrients. Whole grains (high in fiber) can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and keep the digestive system healthy.
2. Eat a balanced diet
A balanced diet is important. You can’t totally deprive something of the diet. Eat good kind of carbs (with fiber) with protein and fat whenever possible.
At each meal, half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables and a quarter of the plate should be filled with whole grains. The last quarter of the plate should be protein – meat, fish, beans, or nuts.
How many carbs should you consume?
1 g of carbohydrates provides 4 calories. Current dietary guidelines recommend 45-65% (135g for adults). People with diabetes should eat no more than 200 g of carbs per day, while pregnant women need at least 175 g per day.
However, 45-65% is way too high – excessive carbs will turn into fat, which you don’t want. The current dietary pyramid really screws up the Americans and more. It’s done by the data not backed up scientifically and politics and powerful food manufactures for profit gains.
A high carb diet really puts many people at risk of obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and more. Low carb diet includes unhealthy fat. Keto diet is much better choice since it’s much more effective on weight loss by low carb, high healthy fat, and protein diet backed up scientifically than the pyramid diet.
However, not getting enough carbohydrates can cause problems. A deficiency of glucose, or low blood sugar, is called hypoglycemia.
- Without sufficient glucose, the central nervous system suffers, which may cause dizziness or mental and physical weakness (no energy).
- When the body has insufficient carbohydrate intake or stores, it will consume protein for fuel, which is problematic as I explained above.
Conclusion: Now you could understand carbs better than before! Carbs aren't just bread and pasta - fresh products are carbs, too! You just need to pick healthy carbs with fiber to keep you healthy! Avoid processed carbs if you want to lose weight and stay healthy. It'll give you an instant result. No need to worry about carbs, embrase it with whole foods!
If you find this blog post helpful, please help me out by sharing this blog post on your social media! If you have a tip to add or contents you’d like to see more on this blog, please feel free to leave a comment below.