Carbohydrates: What You Should Know About Them

Saad Rana Jul 20 2014

The words “carbohydrates” and “carbs” are used quite frequently, but have you ever wondered what these words actually mean? A large proportion of the food that you consume daily contains variable quantities of carbohydrates. You know what they say, ‘You are what you eat’, and what better way to take control of your health than to be well-aware of what you are eating? Without any further delay, Team HTV is going to take you on a brief tour of the world of carbohydrates.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates function as the most important energy source for your body. Your digestive system routinely converts carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar). This glucose is then converted into energy which is utilized by your cells, tissues and organs. In addition to glucose generation, extra energy is stored in the liver and muscles for future use. Carbohydrates are obtained in two forms: simple carbs and complex carbs. The two are differentiated based on their chemical make-up, which also affects the role they play in your body.

Simple Carbs

Simple carbs are also called monosaccharides (mono- meaning one and –saccharide meaning sugar). They are labeled as ‘simple’ because they cannot be broken down any further.

Three main types of monosaccharides include the following:

  1. Glucose: A simple sugar found in plant-based foods
  2. Fructose: A simple sugar obtained from fruits and several other plant-based foods. It is directly absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion.
  3. Galactose: A simple sugar found in milk sugar.

These are the foremost sources of fuel for metabolism (the process of energy generation in the body). Simple carbs include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Certain food products are also enriched with simple sugars during processing.  

Complex Carbs

Complex carbs are also called disaccharides, because they are formed due to a chemical combination of more than one monosaccharide. The following pairings will give you a better idea of what this means:

  1. Glucose and fructose are combined the resultant complex carb will be sucrose. In fact, we use sucrose on a daily basis: it is the regular sugar that you purchase at the store and use to sweeten your tea.  
  2. Glucose combined with galactose produces lactose (milk sugar).
  3. Glucose combined with glucose itself produces maltose which is a form of malt sugar.

Complex carbohydrates are obtained from wholegrain foods such as wholegrain bread and cereals, starchy vegetables and legumes. Many complex carbs are also excellent sources of fiber.

Good Carbs Vs. Bad Carbs

Carbohydrates obtained from natural food sources form the best dietary options for you. By natural food sources we mean vegetables, fruits, wholegrain and whole-wheat food products. These products are replete with nutritional goodness and exceptional amounts of fiber, both of which are excellent for your health.

Processed and refined foods, such as white rice, white pasta and white bread, have a higher proportion of carbs and a lower percentage of nutritional goodness. During food processing the vitamins, minerals and fiber inherent in natural foods are destroyed. According to health experts, the following tips will help you pick the right carbs, the carbs that are conducive to good health:

  1. Avoid refined and processed food. Stick to natural food and whole grains.
  2. Eat more beans
  3. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables
  4. Avoid drinks and juices with added sugars

Carbs and Dieting

It is common for weight watchers to slap restrictions on their carbohydrate intake. Is this the right approach to dieting? Let’s take a look at the changes the body undergoes when there is a shortage of carbs. When the body has limited or inadequate carbs to utilize for energy generation it turns to its next best option i.e. body fats- this process is known as ketosis. You may be thinking, ‘Won’t I lose more weight if my body fat is being utilized?’ Yes, but you must understand that you will also be depriving your body of the basic fuel that it needs to generate energy. In the long run, eliminating carbs from your diet will not serve as a suitable and sustainable diet plan.  

Carbs: Choose The Right Ones

It always boils down to the choices you make. Not all carbohydrates are bad for you; you just have to figure out which ones will boost your health. Make a note of all that has been mentioned in this article, evaluate your food choices, and make the necessary adjustments. If you are not comfortable with a radical alteration in your dietary choices, take it one step at a time. Slow and steady is just as acceptable a route, as long as your journey is focused on improved vigor and wellbeing.

Team HTV would love to hear from you, so feel free to comment and share your stories on healthy living! As always, stay happy and remember, your health should always come first

Saad Rana

Saad Rana:

As a current dental student at Ziauddin University, Saad takes an interest in health, fitness and nutrition. He writes articles based on research through on-line publications as well as consulting various doctors and nutrition and fitness experts. When he's not writing for Health TV, you can find him studying, exercising or watching some of his favourite TV shows.