Carbohydrates are foods that fuel the human body constantly. They are produced by plants through a process called photosynthesis. When carbohydrates are consumed, the digestive system breaks them down into small, sugar molecules that enter the bloodstream easily. These sugar molecules are called blood sugar or glucose, which is the primary source of body energy. Scientifically, a carbohydrate is an organic compound consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms- where the atom ratio of hydrogen and oxygen is 2:1.
Carbohydrates can take any of the three basic forms described below:
Sugars - Sugars are either monosaccharides or disaccharides that typically form straight chain structures. Sugars are alternatively called simple carbohydrates. They are used by the body to generate energy, and they mainly include glucose. Other examples of sugars are galactose, maltose and fructose. Humans consume sugar usually in the form of granulated substances (sucrose), which is a disaccharide.
Starches - These carbohydrates are polysaccharides, which means that they contain several merged units of a monosaccharide like glucose. Plants use starches to store energy for later use. This is why many starch-containing grains boast an insoluble outer shell for energy storage. Examples of starches include corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, breads, nuts, and seeds among others.
Cellulose - This carbohydrate type forms a ring molecular structure, consisting of 1500 glucose molecules. It is the most plentiful organic compound on the planet. Cellulose boosts formation of cell walls in all living things. Because a human digestive system lacks sufficient enzymes to break-down cellulose, it can only be introduced to the body as a fiber. The key sources of a fiber are whole grains, green vegetables, fruits and beans.
Two Main Types of Carbohydrates
A few modern diet providers have continually discouraged consumption of carbohydrates. They have made people believe that these foods increase body fat, leading to high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular diseases. Carbohydrates are not bad for human health. Read on and learn their different kinds and how they affect human health. They are generally divided into two types: complex and simple.
Complex carbohydrates can simply be described as long chains of single sugar molecules or polysaccharides. Starch is the main polysaccharide utilized by plants to store energy for later usage. When an individual consumes starchy foods, an enzyme in the saliva and intestines (amylase) breaks the bonds that link sugar molecules together. This changes sugar to glucose, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Excess glucose is stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen. When humans demand an urgent source of energy, perhaps when working out, glycogen is quickly transformed into energy.
A list of complex carbohydrates is shown below.
- Grains and cereals such as rice, corn and oatmeal
- Legumes like dried beans and peas
- Vegetables such as potatoes
- Fruits like berries, apples and pears
- Different nuts and seeds, including cashew nuts, macadamia, walnuts, chestnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, dates, and flaxseeds among others
Consumers are encouraged to make great food choices with regard to complex carbohydrates. This means avoiding foods with "empty" calories, such as white sugar and white rice. These foods are generally refined, and their vitamins, fiber, and minerals are already removed. Whole foods containing unrefined grains are definitely excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. These may include brown rice, brown sugar, oatmeal, and corn.
Eat Complex Carbs for Dietary Fiber
There are several health advantages associated with eating high fiber foods. Dietary fiber helps in digestion and boosts absorption of useful nutrients. High fiber foods are recommended for those looking to lose weight in a healthy manner. After consuming high fiber carbohydrates, the stomach feels fuller quickly and remains this way for a longer period. This prevents overeating and unintended weight gain.
These types of fiber foods can be used to prevent and cure constipation, digestive tract inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids. Research shows that dietary fiber lowers the risk of catching coronary heart disease that is normally caused by bad cholesterol. One may also avoid type 2 diabetes and certain stomach cancers by eating a high fiber diet. A diet high in fiber contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber easily mixes with water. Since it delays the digestion of food, the stomach feels fuller for a longer period. Soluble fiber may therefore be used to control weight.
It is contained in the following complex carbohydrates:
- Seeds and nuts
- Dried beans and lentils
- Carrots, cucumbers and berries
- Fruits like oranges, pears and apples
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. According to experts, this diet adds bulk to the foods, thus preventing constipation. Insoluble fiber is contained in foods such as:
- Whole cereals including bran, wheat, corn and rice
- Veggies like broccoli, spinach, green beans, carrots, cabbages and onions
- Fruits like tomatoes and grapes
The following tips can help you introduce fiber into your daily meals:
- Increase intake of fruits and vegetables that contain high complex carbohydrates. Good examples are dried beans (like navy, kidney, Lima and white beans), figs and dates, sweet potatoes, spinach, pears, apples, potatoes and berries.
- Substitute white bread products for whole grain breads.
- Eat whole cereals like oatmeal, bran and brown rice instead of white rice.
- Aim for five grams dietary fiber per serving. It is important to read labels for all foods bought from a store to achieve this goal.
The other name for simple carbohydrates is simple sugars. These are monosaccharide carbohydrates (have one sugar unit only) and disaccharides (have two sugar units only). Simple carbohydrates are generally sweet foods. They are metabolized very quickly in the intestines to form sugars like glucose and fructose. When people eat refined fast foods in a restaurant they are eating mostly simple carbohydrates.
Not all simple carbohydrates are bad carbohydrates. Some simple carbohydrate foods are good for consumption like milk and fruits. These contain natural sugars while bad carbs contain added sugars. So they give one's body more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is good to avoid white table sugar, white breads and pastas, sodas, candies, cakes and other foods with added sugars and flavors.
Should You Eat Carbohydrates at All?
Carbohydrates are building blocks for a healthy and energetic body. They make an integral part of a balanced diet. Listening to people or companies that disregard consumption of carbs is unwise. If one chooses their carbohydrates wisely, they can control body weight, blood sugar, and enjoy optimal body functioning. So it is good to start a day with servings of whole grains such as oats, wheat, and cereals. Although potatoes are great sources of complex carbohydrates, one should limit their intake. Brown rice, millet or barley could sometimes be used as potato substitutes. Beans and lentils are great sources of fiber and protein while fruits and vegetables provide high amounts of fiber, minerals and vitamins.
Good Carbohydrates Versus Bad Carbohydrates
It is important to understand the difference between "good" and "bad" carbohydrates. A good carbohydrate (complex carbohydrate) aids digestion, prevents the formation of bad cholesterol and keeps the body safe from type-2 diabetes, heart ailments, and obesity. A bad carbohydrate (simple carbohydrate) introduces nothing useful to the body, making it store excess fat and experience quick blood sugar fluctuations. So it is a common knowledge to eat good carbs and avoid bad carbs.
Some of the bad carbohydrates to avoid include:
- White grain breads and pastas
- Beverages with tons of added sugars such as sodas and juices. People should drink pure water instead.
- Candies and cakes that contain high amounts of white table sugar and white flour
- White rice
Do Carbohydrates Promote Muscle Building and Fitness?
Numerous muscle builders consume more protein than carbohydrates. Some of them do not believe that carbohydrates are significant in their muscle building efforts. The truth that they have been missing is that complex carbs promote fast muscle development. According to fitness experts, a good diet should contain protein and carbohydrate calories in equal proportions. They recommend a diet that has 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. Carbohydrates are known to enhance the rate in which the nutrients from proteins are ferried to the muscle tissue. This brings a muscle builder closer to his goal.
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The following simple instructions should be followed by muscle builders when eating carbohydrates:
- Focus on complex carbohydrates - These are known to facilitate development of muscle glycogen. This is excess glucose is kept in the muscle tissue and liver. It is the permanent body fuel needed by professional muscle builders to train hard every day. Complex carbs are not metabolized quickly, which means that they provide a long lasting energy supply. By controlling the blood sugar constantly, complex carbs minimize fat storage and tiredness.
- Have many small servings of meals - Although a muscle builder needs constant energy supply to train longer, they must eat carbs in small portions. This should be done to keep the level of insulin steady. Insulin puts the body in a muscle building state, and lack of it could easily cause a muscle breakdown. Eating one big serving of carbohydrates before an exercise is not recommended. One should eat a small portion, combined with an equal portion of protein, after each training period.
- Focus on high fiber complex carbs - Fiber does not only promote digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also helps the muscle tissue absorb amino acids quickly. Amino acids are proven to support muscle growth and development.