Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation since the advent of the "low-carb" diet. Unfortunately, many people don't really know what the definition of a carb really is. More importantly, they don't know that there are good carbs and bad carbs, and the good ones are necessary for optimum health.
Simple and Complex
Carbohydrates are organic compounds, including starches, sugars, and fiber. Another way of saying this is that we have simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.
Sugars can be monosaccharides (“one sugar”) or, when they are composed of two monosaccharides, they are called disaccharides (“two sugars”). Starches are polysaccharides (“many sugars”) and are composed of long chains of monosaccharides.
The -oses are sugars
The most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose, and the most common disaccharides are maltose (alcohol sugar), sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Of all of these sugars, glucose is the most important, because it is fuel for the brain and the muscles. You will sometimes hear glucose referred to as “blood sugar” because it circulates in the blood bringing energy to the brain and fuel to the muscles.
Carbohydrate Definition - Starches and Fibers
Starches and fibers are the complex carbohydrates, also known as polysaccharides. Starches are stored by all of the plants we eat, and so, come almost exclusively from plant foods. Fibers make up the structures of plants and are classified as soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber are essential to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Why are carbohydrates good for you?
In addition to providing your body with fuel—glucose for brain function and muscle activity—carbohydrate foods contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, along with other protective phytochemicals, the value of which we have only just begun to appreciate. A carbohydrate-rich diet, especially with emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, may protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer. In addition, the fiber in many carb foods will contribute to elimination and decreased exposure to harmful toxins.
What is a serving of carbohydrate?
The serving size for carbohydrates varies according to type. For the Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group, a serving would be 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked pasta, rice or cereal, 1 small roll, biscuit or muffin, ½ bagel or bun or 3 small crackers.
For vegetables, a serving would be ½ cup cooked or raw or 1 cup leafy greens and for fruits, a serving would be 1 medium for most fruits, 1 melon slice, ½ grapefruit or ½ c. berries or canned fruit. A serving of vegetable or fruit juice is ¾ cup.