Carbohydrates, typically bring to mind that second, or third, roll with lunch—or that baked potato from last night’s dinner. Though too many carbohydrates is certainly an enemy to any diet, most of the food we eat—fruit, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, legumes and other items—contains some form of carbohydrates.
But, what are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates, or carbs, are a type of macronutrient found in a wide variety of foods and beverages, and are divided into two categories, simple and complex. Complex carbs are multiple simple carbs bound together. There are 3 main types of carbs: sugar, a simple carb is typically found in fruits, veggies and milk products; starch, is a complex carb, and occurs naturally in grains, cooked beans and vegetables; fiber, is another one of the complex carbs found in many vegetables and grains.
Another term associated with carbohydrates, both the simple carbs and more complex carbs, is ‘glycemic index’. The glycemic index or GI, measures the impact a particular type of food has on a person’s blood glucose (also known as blood sugar) levels. The Glycemic Index usually falls between 50 and 100, with 100 representing those foods which are rapidly digested and absorbed. Foods with a higher GI result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels, Low-GI foods are absorbed and digested more slowly, resulting in more gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels.
There’s a lot more to carbs than most dieters realize, and cutting out carbs completely may not always be the best fit for you goals. The Dietary Guidelines for America recommends that carbs make up 45-65 percent of your daily calories. Aiming for 2000 calories a day? You should allocate 900-1300 calories to carbohydrates, if you want to keep your carb intake at recommended levels.
Carbohydrates are important for a variety of reasons, beyond providing energy and controlling weight, there’s evidence to suggest that whole grains and dietary fiber help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Fiber is also vital to digestive health.
Carbohydrates are essential to optimal health, and regulating your intake can make a huge difference in reaching your goals.