What are they?
Carbohydrates are organic compounds that can be divided into three groups—starches, sugars, and fiber . Another way of saying this is that we have complex carbohydrates and simple 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.
Carbohydrates that are Sugars (-oses)
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 both fuel for the brain and, when the body stores it as glycogen, fuel for 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 your muscles.
Carbohydrates that are Starches and Fibers
The complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are starches and fibers. Starches are stored by the plants that 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 eating lifestyle.
There is another issue with regard to carbohydrates that has become popular in recent years. This is something called the Glycemic Index. This is a way of measuring how fast the sugar from carbohydrates gets into your bloodstream. This may be important in weight loss and control of diabetes, because of its affect on insulin, the hormone produced by your pancreas that allows the glucose to enter the cells and provide energy. Generally the simpler the carbohydrate, the more quickly it is broken down and shows up as glucose in your blood.
The much maligned nutrient
With the advent of low-carb diets, carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation in recent years, but, without them, you will not feel well. It is important for you to know that carbohydrates can be part of a healthy diet. You need them for energy, and carb foods contain many of the other nutrients, including as vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs.
Carbohydrate foods are the plant foods that you eat. There are the healthy carbs, such as
Foods from whole grains: Breads… Rolls… Pasta… Cereal… Bagels… Rice…
Fruits: Apples… Oranges… Pears… Bananas… Grapes… Berries… Peaches… Watermelon… Pineapple… Kiwi… Grapefruit…
Vegetables: Lettuce… Broccoli… Carrots… Potatoes… Peas… Corn… Onions… Beans… Spinach… Squash…
and there are less healthy (some would say un-healthy) choices, such as
French fries… Doughnuts… Chips… Pies… Cakes… Cookies… Products made from all white flour.
It is important that you choose most of your foods from the first group rather than from the last In addition to being poor carbohydrate foods, the foods in the second list are generally loaded with fat, particularly saturated fat and trans-fats, which have been implicated as bad actors in the rise of heart disease and cancer.
Starchy vs. Non-starchy Vegetables
Within the vegetable group, a distinction can also be made between those with a significant amount of carbohydrates, and those with not much carbs at all.
Starchy vegetables: Carrots, Potatoes, Winter Squash, Corn, Peas, and Sweet Potatoes
Less-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, Lettuce, Spinach, Green Beans, Peppers, and Summer Squash
Although both groups offer good nutrition, if weight loss is an issue for you, choose vegetables from the less starchy group more often than from the starchy group.
Sources Carbohydrates with Protein, too
Certain plant foods that are carbohydrate foods, also supply a significant amount of protein.
Lentils… Split peas… Kidney beans… Pinto beans… Black beans… Soybeans… Garbanzo beans… Navy beans… Peanuts… Peanut Butter… Rice… Wheat…. Barley… Oats… Peas…
When you eat these foods, you are getting the advantages of both a good source of carbohydrates and also a significant source of protein. Most of them also have the added advantage of being high in fiber.
Conversely, although most carbohydrates come from plants, one animal product, milk contains the carbohydrate lactose. There also is some carbohydrate found in liver, but it is not considered a significant source.
The right stuff
The big concern with carbs is not whether we are getting enough, but rather, which carbs are we eating. Are you eating a lot of bread and skipping vegetables and fruits? Are you eating white flour products and missing out on the benefits of whole grain foods? Do you concentrate on starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, and say no to broccoli and dark leafy greens? Do you go for deep-fried vegetables rather than eating them lightly cooked or raw? Chances are you are getting enough carbs, but are they the right kind?
What is a serving?
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.
What do I need to remember about Sources Carbohydrates?
A portion of any food is generally smaller than you think. If you drink juice from a 12-oz. tumbler, and you fill it up, you will be getting 2 servings of fruits or vegetables. If you eat a large delicious apple or large navel orange, you are probably getting 2-3 servings of fruit.
Servings at a glance for Sources Carbohydrates
The rule of thumb is that a medium fruit is a little larger than a tennis ball, and one cup of cooked vegetables or rice is about the size of a fist. It is probably not necessary to be extremely precise, but you should not kid yourself about serving sizes either. If you can’t visualize it, then, you may want to actually measure it, just once, so that you will get a picture in your head for future reference.
Whole, unprocessed food
The other thing to remember is that the recommended servings are based on choosing more whole grains and unprocessed fruits and vegetables—Whole wheat bread over white bread, baked potato over French fries and fresh fruit over sweetened, canned fruit.
Poor Sources Carbohydrates
There is some good evidence that too many of the wrong carbs, simple sugars and refined starches, can lead to cavities, insulin resistance and even malnutrition. Too much fiber in the diet can lead to gastro-intestinal distress and can limit the absorption of important nutrients.
The Secret for Sources Carbohydrates
Eat carbohydrates from a variety of sources. Concentrate on whole grains and colorful fruits and vegetables. Be aware of your portions, especially of the starchy carbs. Just for fun, investigate some new carbohydrate foods.
Get answers to your healthy eating questions.