Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

Your diet is made up of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. All of which are macronutrients that have many different purposes in the human body,

Carbohydrates provide fuel for your body and are important for your central nervous system and working muscles. Not to mention,  many carbohydrates are rich in important nutrients for your body.

The simplest form of carbohydrate is glucose, which is a basic sugar unit called a monosaccharide (mono = one, saccharide = sugar). Two sugar molecules combined form a disaccharide (di = two). Three or more sugar molecules combined form a polysaccharide (poly = many).

Table sugar is made up of sucrose, which is a disaccharide of glucose + fructose.

Sucrose, fructose, and glucose are examples of “simple carbs”. Since simple carbohydrates are short molecules, it doesn’t take your body much work to break them down (read – digest them). Therefore, they are easily and rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, spiking your blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates are longer molecules and take more time to be broken down. They are not as easily absorbed by the body and enter the bloodstream at a much slower rate, which  doesn’t help make sure your blood sugar remains stable.

When you eat, the carbohydrates in your food are broken down into glucose. That glucose then travels throughout the bloodstream to get to your cells. The cell uses that glucose as energy or stores it for later use. If stored for later, glucose is converted to something called glycogen and is stored in the liver. You can think of this as a piggy bank for carbohydrates! When you aren’t eating, the liver will release some of that stored glucose back into the bloodstream to make sure your blood sugar remains stabilized.

If carbohydrates are consumed in excess (not needed for immediate energy and that glycogen piggy bank is full), they will be stored as body fat. If you’ve ever heard that “carbs make you fat,” it’s really just excess carbs that contribute to increased fat!

What makes something a “good” or “bad” carb? 

Most foods aren’t inherently “good” or “bad”.It really depends on your individual needs! For example, if you are trying to regulate high blood sugar, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid eating simple carbs like sugary cereal or candy.  On the contrary, athletes may need to load up on simple carbs to provide them with an immediate source of energy for athletic pursuits.

From a general health perspective, it is wise to eliminate the consumption of processed and refined carbohydrates and soda as well as limit sugar intake as they can all lead to health complications in excess. Consuming large amounts of sugar causes your blood sugar to spike and crash, which is harmful for blood sugar regulation. A diet high in sugar and refined carbs can increase your risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and can be detrimental for your immune system and gut health!

Therefore, in the interest of health, carb sources that will contribute to a healthy gut, body, and immune system and a reduced risk of disease include single-ingredient starches, starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and an abundance of fruit and vegetables. In other words, choosing carbohydrate sources that are similar to how they are found in nature will provide your body with the energy and nutrients you need to thrive!

Just like protein and fat, carbohydrates are a source of energy – not the enemy!

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