Carbohydrates are one of three essential macronutrients. Although all three, Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins are essential for survival, Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body as conversion into glucose only consists of a single step.
Once carbohydrates get broken down and converted into glucose, it quickly enters the blood and can almost immediately be used by the body to fuel crucial organs such as the brain, heart, and muscles.
There are 4 calories in each gram of a pure carbohydrate.
There are two main groups of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars and complex carbohydrates are starches. Both of these are commonly found in natural but also processed foods. The benefit of consuming naturally occurring carbohydrates is that apart from the energy they provide a whole list of other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, don’t provide much at all as most of the nutrients have been stripped away during the process.
Most fruits, vegetables, and honey are all naturally occurring simple carbohydrates. Biscuits, sweets, snack bars and cereals are processed simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates can naturally found in bananas, beans, potatoes, root vegetables, whole grains and rice. They can also be found in refined products such as pasta, white four, and processed food.
You might have experienced a rapid drop in energy soon after eating a meal high in carbohydrates. The reason for it is showed in the diagram.
Insulin produced in the pancreas is released to lower the glucose levels in the blood and put it into muscles for storage in the form of glycogen. After this, glucose levels in the blood are low, which creates an energy crash, leaving you tired and hungry again very soon after the meal. What can be done in order to prevent this from happening?
Generally, the more processed a carbohydrate is, the quicker it is digested and therefore glucose enters the bloodstream much more rapidly. Naturally occurring carbohydrates, especially the complex kind take longer to be broken down and taken into the bloodstream, preventing the rapid increase in glucose levels, followed by a crash.
Fiber, a type of complex carbohydrate, is hardly digestible and therefore slows down the digestion process which stabilizes blood sugar levels. The presence of fat and protein in meals also slows down the digestion process, as they take longer to break down. This results in glucose being released over a longer period of time, keeping you fuller for longer.
Make sure to choose primarily complex over simple carbohydrates and incorporate a source of healthy source of fat and protein in every meal. You can find more information on fats and proteins in following articles.
Now it is time for a little activity for you:
True or False?
- T / F: Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body.
- T / F: Glucose and glycogen are the same thing.
- T / F: All simple carbohydrates are bad.
- T / F: Fiber is a simple carbohydrate.
- T / F: Refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels more than naturally occurring carbohydrates.
- T / F: all carbohydrates provide 4 calories per each gram
Can you identify Simple and Complex carbohydrates?