What are Carbohydrates?

Jun 2, 2020 mindpump

When it comes to dieting, the first decision people tend to make is limiting their carbohydrate intake. But, why? If carbs are essential for our survival, why are we so quick to eliminate them? The discussion shouldn’t be about how many or how few carbs you should be eating…the focus should be on what kind of carbohydrates you are eating. Let’s talk about what a carb is, why we need them and the difference between “good” and “bad” carbs.

What are Carbohydrates?

Scientifically, a carbohydrate is a molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Now, let’s define this in a way that makes sense… Basically, carbohydrates are the sugars and starches found in fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. Carbs are one of the “Big Three” macronutrients in our diets. Just like protein and fat, carbohydrates are essential for us. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex.

What’s the difference? Simple carbohydrates are broken down and digested very quickly in the body. Some examples are fruit, milk and even refined sugars like candy. Complex carbohydrates take a much longer time for you to break down and digest and can be found in foods like beans and rice.

Why do we need carbohydrates?

Many people will argue that carbohydrates are the “least” needed macronutrient for survival. Technically, that is true, but they are still needed for us to function properly. Carbohydrates give us energy for our muscles and central nervous system. Without carbs, our bodies would begin to use protein as their primary energy source.  

Carbohydrates keep our brains healthy. Have you ever tried to consume less carbohydrates in your diet and experienced negative symptoms like irritability, moodiness, and brain fog? Carbohydrates are an extremely important energy source for our brains. Without carbs, our brain function will suffer.

Where do we find carbs?

You’ll often hear people say there are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs. As previously stated, carbs are broken down into glucose when you consume them. “Bad” carbs are foods that are high in refined sugars and low in nutritional value. These foods are usually simple carbohydrates that quickly break down into sugar in your body. Now, I’m not saying you should stay away from sugar. We all know fruits are full of sugar. It’s okay to eat fruit, but it’s important to understand that sugar from fruits is not refined. Carbohydrate foods that are high in refined sugar will raise your blood sugar very quickly and not give your body time to digest. “Good” carbs tend to be complex carbohydrates that are full of nutrients that digest slowly in your body. These types of carbs normally take a longer time to raise your body’s glucose levels.  

“Bad” carbs are found in:

  • Doughnuts
  • Cookies
  • Candy
  • Pastries

“Good” carbs are found in:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains like rice
  • Legumes like beans

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t avoid carbs whether you consider them good or bad. Focus on eating carbohydrates that are unprocessed and rich in nutrients. By doing so, you’ll give your body the fuel it needs to function.

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