Carbohydrates are the starches, sugar, and fiber found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains. On a chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the muscles and the central nervous system. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the body where it is either used for energy or stored as glycogen (the storage form of glucose) in the liver or muscles. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories for every gram.
Roles in the body
- The body’s preferred source of energy
- Spares protein – prevents the body from using protein as an energy source
- Dietary fiber found in carbohydrates contributes to lowering cholesterol levels, regulating bowel function, and stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Essential for the functioning of the nervous system, muscles, brain, and various organs
Classifications of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are known as saccharides. Carbohydrates that have just one carbohydrate molecule are known as monosaccharides, carbohydrates with two carbohydrate molecules are called disaccharides, and more than two carbohydrate molecules are known as polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides – glucose, fructose, galactose
Disaccharides – lactose (glucose + galactose), sucrose (glucose + fructose), maltose (glucose + glucose)
Polysaccharides – cellulose, starch, glycogen
45-65% of total calories
Starchy vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, sweets and desserts, sugar, milk
- Good sources
- Fruit – whole fresh or frozen fruit, fruit canned in water or its own juice, 100% fruit juice w/o added sugar
- Starchy vegetables – fresh baked sweet potatoes, corn, beans, lentils, peas, brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bran cereal
- Non-starchy vegetables – All fresh vegetables: examples: kale, spinach, broccoli, onion, tomatoes, and carrots. Eat a variety of colors (dark-green, red, yellow or orange). Low sodium canned vegetables prepared without added salt
- No-dairy milk- almond milk, cashew milk, soy milk
- Bad sources
- Table sugar, brown sugar
- Starchy vegetables canned in salt, or prepared with butter
- Grains- refined grains such as white rice, white bread, sugary cereals, pastries
- Beverages – soft drinks, artificial fruit drinks
Common Myths about Carbohydrates
- Carbs make you fat
- Truth – Eating high process carbohydrate sources such as candy, pastries and soft drinks can contribute to fat gain due to high amount of calories. Eating unprocessed carbohydrates such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and wholes grains are important components to maintaining a healthy body weight.
- All dark breads are made from whole wheat
- Truth – All dark breads aren’t made from whole wheat. Breads labelled as multi-grain, wheat and honey wheat are brown, but are just as refined as white bread. These breads get their brown color because of food coloring or molasses. It is important to choose bread that is labelled 100% whole wheat. Whole wheat flour should be the first ingredient on the ingredient label.
- Avoid Fruit Due to High Sugar Content
- Truth – The sugars found in fruit are natural sources and are different from the sugars that are added to foods and beverages. Unlike table sugar, fruit is contains dietary fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals and many other health promoting substances that not only reduces inflammation but helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.