Carbohydrates are macronutrients that provide energy to cells in the body with energy. Energy is required to sustain the body’s various functions, such as circulation, maintenance of the body’s core temperature, physical work and respiration.
Where can carbohydrates be found? They are found in the Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives and Meat and Alternatives (beans, legumes and lentils) food groups.
There are three main types of carbohydrates: fibre, starch and sugar. How much carbohydrate is needed by the body is highly debated, therefore, I’ll concentrate on the types of carbohydrate that are beneficial and detrimental to your diet.
The first type of carbohydrate is dietary fiber. Fiber consists of non-digestible carbohydrates that have beneficial effects in our bodies. Some of these beneficial effects may be:
• Cause the sensation of fullness (which may contribute to weight control)
• Potentially have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity (benefit for those with diabetes)
• Protect against coronary heart disease
• Relieve constipation
Fibre can be found in whole grain grain products. Some names for different types of fiber to look for on ingredient lists are: cellulose, inulin, lignin, pectin, oat bran and wheat bran.
The second type of carbohydrate is starch. There is some research that suggests when less processed starchy foods are absorbed slowly, they may have health advantages. Grain products and certain vegetables are the major sources of starch. Darkly colored vegetables and fruit contain little or no starch.
The bad part of carbohydrates is the lack of evidence-based information on how much is needed by the body. Because of this lack of credible information, diet companies can sell their ideas of how much is needed (or not needed) for weight loss.
Sugar is the last type of carbohydrates. There are two different types of sugar, naturally-occurring (fruit and fruit products) and added (desserts, fruit-flavored drinks, pop, sugar and sweets).
The ugly part comes when too much sugar (mainly added sugar) is consumed:
• Behavior: some people believe that the intake of sugar is related to hyperactivity, especially in children
• Cancer: an increase in sugar intake may lead to an increase in cancer incidence (breast, colon, etc.)
• Cholesterol: an increase in sugar intake may lead to an increase in LDL (low density lipoprotein – the “bad” cholesterol) and a decrease in HDL (high density lipoprotein – the “good” cholesterol).
• Dental Caries: sugar plays a significant role in the development of dental caries (cavities).
• Diabetes: an increase in sugar intake may lead to increased blood sugar levels.
• Obesity: an increase in sugar intake may lead to weight gain.
• Physical Activity: an increase in sugar intake may impair physical performance.
Although I can’t give a recommended amount of carbohydrate to include in your diet, I can tell you to include more high fibre choices and less high sugar choices. This recommendation will ensure your food choices are healthier.
In the next couple weeks, I am going to tackle the major nutrients, vitamins and minerals. If you have certain questions about any of these topics, please send them my way and I’ll include them in my blogs.
If you have any nutrition topics you would like me to write about or have a question you would like answered, email me at [email protected]. I would really like to hear from you!