Your Favorite Fuel
Carbohydrates… the tasty treat that you try to avoid. You’ve heard about carbohydrates but do you really know what they are? Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, which means that they supply energy to the body. They are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in a variety of food.
Benefits of Carbohydrates
- They are the body’s preferred source of energy.
- Carbohydrates promote brain health because they are the only form of energy that your brain can use.
- The muscles use carbohydrates as fuel during higher intensity activities.
- They regulate blood sugar levels and digestive health.
- They promote a healthy heart and lower cholesterol levels.
- Carbohydrates keep you feeling fuller longer.
To receive these benefits, there are a few things you must know.
Types of Carbohydrates
Firstly, there are two types of carbohydrates that each have their own health benefits:.
Complex Carbohydrates vs Simple Carbohydrates
- Simple carbohydrates, or monosaccharides and disaccharides, consist of one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy because they are the fastest and easiest to digest. Food sources include fruit, honey, various jams, and sweets.
- Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, are referred to as dietary starch and consist of sugar molecules that are strung together. They provide long term energy because they are slower to absorb. Food sources include grains, pasta, and vegetables.
Fiber, Sugar, and Starch… Oh My!
Secondly, there are three main sources of carbohydrates and each have their own benefits in your nutrition.
A Healthy Dose of Fiber
The media is certainly right when they recommend fiber because it has many health benefits. You can use fiber to lower the risk of heart disease, as well as improve digestive health, and increase the feeling of fullness. There are two types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber is dissolved by water and moderates blood glucose levels. Food sources include oats, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
- Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb in water and helps with intestinal health. The largest food source of insoluble fiber is the bran layer of cereal grains.
Sugar has a poor reputation in the health world but it isn’t bad for you as long as it is part of a balanced diet. This simple carbohydrate actually has a very important function. Sugar provides the immediate energy that the body needs as well as stored energy for later. Eventually, your body will break down every type of carbohydrate into glucose because it’s the easiest to absorb and use for energy. Yes, even vegetables get broken down into sugar.There are two categories of sugar:
- Monosaccharides– Single unit sugars, such as Glucose, Fructose, and Galactose.
- Disaccharides– Two monosaccharides linked together, such as Sucrose, Lactose, and Maltose.
Starch is a complex carbohydrate whose primary function is long term energy. The body breaks it It down into glucose and transports it throughout. A wide variety of foods contain starch, including potatoes and grains.
Glycemic Index and Why it Matters
Have you ever noticed that some carbs are more filling than others? This is explained by the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a ranking of foods that contain carbohydrates based on how the food affects blood sugar. Foods with a lower glycemic index are absorbed at a slower rate and help keep you feeling fuller longer. Lower glycemic index foods include whole wheat pasta, beans, and apples. Higher glycemic index foods include instant rice, white bread, and rice cakes.
Now You Know
Carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet because they contain the energy that fuels your body and your brain. Each carbohydrate has a specific purpose and, without them, your body wouldn’t be able to function.
- Carbohydrates 101- What Are Carbohydrates?
- You Need To Eat Carbohydrates
2012. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Fourth Edition. Philadelphia, PA. Lippincott Williams & WIlkins, a Wolters Kluwer business.