A Quick Guide to Carbs for Beginners
How much do you know about carbs? Do you understand the difference between “good carbs” and “bad carbs?” You will, once you read this quick but concise guide to carbohydrates.
What are carbs?
Carbohydrates, also known as saccharides, are macro-nutrients that comprise the starches and sugars that are found in dairy foods, fruits, nuts, grains and some vegetables. Insoluble cellulose fiber is also considered a carbohydrate.
They are an excellent source of energy for our bodies.
Types of carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates are also known as monosaccharides. According to the Mayo Clinic, the simplest carbohydrate is sugar. Simple carbs include fruit sugar, or fructose, lactose, or milk sugar, and sucrose, commonly known as table sugar.
Processed flour is loaded with simple carbs. The human body expends virtually no energy digesting simple carbs. Simple carbohydrates do not provide long-lasting energy. For this reason, simple carbohydrate sugars are sometimes called “bad carbs” or “fast carbs.”
Complex carbohydrates are also known as polysaccharides. Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates. They are found in whole grains, unprocessed oats, dairy products and vegetables. Nutritionists consider complex carbs to be more healthful than simple carbs.
This is why complex carbs may be called “good carbs” or “slow carbs.”
Starch and fiber carbs
Found in foods such as dry beans, corn, potatoes and peas, dietary fiber and starches are considered complex carbohydrates. Foods rich in dietary fiber and starch include nuts, seeds, oats and whole grains.
According to the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, insoluble dietary fiber is found in foods such as barley, brown rice, couscous, fresh unprocessed fruit and some vegetables. Bread and pasta made with whole grains deliver a significant amount of beneficial dietary fiber.
White bread and pasta made from white flour deliver none.
What carbohydrates do
The human body turns carbohydrates into energy. Excess carbs are stored for future energy or turned into fat. Carbs both simple and complex are processed through the liver, stimulating pancreatic production of insulin in the process. Simple, fast carbs cause a quick spike in insulin levels. Complex, slow carbs stimulate significantly less insulin production.
As the liver processes carbohydrate, it converts it into glucose. Some glucose may be used as energy right away. Excess glucose converts to glycogen for future energy use. The amount of glycogen that can be stored in the liver and muscles is limited; excess glycogen is stored as fat.
Carbohydrate foods are measured on the glycemic index, or GI, according to how much and how quickly they raise blood sugar levels. Each food has its own GI number on a range of 1 to 100. Simple, fast carbs rank higher on the glycemic index than complex, slow carbohydrates.
Foods such as candy, muffins and cookies rate highly on the glycemic index. They provide a rapid burst of energy that does not last. For this reason, many people report feeling a “sugar hangover” after consuming foods that have a high glycemic index number. For energy that lasts, choose foods that rank closer to 1 on the GI scale. Opt for fresh fruit, whole grain bread, cubes of hard cheese, a handful of nuts or a big bowl of popcorn.
For optimal health, eat more complex carbs and fewer simple carbohydrates
Up your intake of healthful dietary fiber by choosing whole fruit instead of juice. Incorporate more beans into your weekly diet, and limit your consumption of meat products.
Begin your day with a serving of unsweetened, whole-grain cereal topped with fiber-rich fruit such as sliced peaches or chopped apples. Add a few shelled walnuts for an extra dose of beneficial dietary fiber carbs.
When you snack, snack smart. Skip the sugary refined snacks and opt instead for raw veggies or whole fruit.
Why are Carbs important to people who are into fitness?
Carbohydrates are an EXCELLENT source of energy. Our bodies do a wonderful job of turning carb rich foods into fuel for our activities and bodily functions.
So it’s pretty obvious why this is a benefit for people who are into fitness, weight lifting, sports and any other action that requires high amounts of energy.
Carbs also play an essential role in helping protein repair and build your muscles.