Carbohydrates – or Carbs, as they are better known – are simply something our body uses to create glucose, which is the fuel that gives us energy and helps keep everything going. Glucose is also known as the "simple sugar."
There are two type of Carbohydrates: Complex and Simple. Dietary guidelines generally recommend that complex carbohydrates and nutrient-rich simple carbohydrates, such as fruit (glucose or fructose) and dairy products (lactose), make up the bulk of your carbohydrate consumption. This excludes sources of simple sugars such as candy and soft drinks.
Starch and dietary fiber are the two types of complex carbohydrates. Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source. Quite a few foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as breads, cereals and vegetables:
- Starch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn).
- Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
- Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.
Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables milk, and milk products. Simple carbohydrates also include sugars added during food processing and refining. What's the difference? In general, foods with added sugars have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars.
What about foods higher in carbohydrates such as sodas and candies that also contain added sugars? Those are the ones that add extra calories but not many nutrients to your diet.
Remember: Healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.
Should we count carbs? Does this help us lose weight? Well, that is not a simple answer. Many diets have as it's fundamental basis a reduction of carbs, or counting carbs. Comparing two breakfast meals containing the same amount of carbs could have dramatically different fiber, cholesterol and calorie content. You must be careful when counting carbs and understand the full impact of what you are eating.
Total Carbs vs. Net Carbs: When counting carbs, it's important to remember that all carbs are not equal. Understanding the net carb concept is important as well. Basically, a net carb is a carb that has subtracted out the fiber content.
Food that is nutritious is best for us. Makes sense. In most cases, the foods that have added sugar are foods that are the least nutritious and can have a negative impact on our health. Look at the food labels closely. Don't pick up that small piece of candy and avoid soft drinks!
Sugar is the form of carbohydrate that has the most dramatic impact on blood sugar and can contribute to weight gain in the form of empty calories. Rather than counting carbs, many people simply choose to track and limit their sugar intake. The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars (which do not include the natural sugars found in fruits and dairy products) to 10% of total calories, which is about 50g a day for a 2,000 calorie diet.
As always, focus on a lifestyle that is healthy. Here are a few basic concepts:
- Portion sizes (reducing these) helps you control the total number of calories you eat.
- Saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol intake should be reduced
- Sugar, sweets, and salt intake should be limited.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Drinking alcoholic beverages should only be done in moderation, or not at all.
- Physical activity is very important part of your day. See your doctor for advice.
Information on this page has been in part provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and our local community resources. Before starting any physical activity program or dietary change please consult your healthcare professional or physician.