There have been major advances in the understanding of how carbohydrates influence human nutrition and health in recent years with the advent of high carb, to low carb diets. Progress in scientific research has highlighted the diverse functions of carbohydrates in the body and their importance in the promotion of good health. In fact, there is so much good news that it is time to take a closer look at carbohydrates.
Carbs are one of three main nutrients in food, the others being fats and protein. There are three common types of carbs in foods: (1) Sugar; (2) Starch; and (3) Dietary fiber. The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system.
Carbs in Processed Food
Sugar is the most widespread form of carbohydrate. In fact, about half our sugar intake comes from ‘invisible’ sugars inside foods, (rather than sugar we add). The main sugar culprits are sodas, cakes, cookies and candy and, you got it…junk food. Most times these foods are high in calories, but low on nutrition. Refined sugars provide calories, but lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These simple sugars are often called “empty calories” and can lead to weight gain.
Also, many refined foods, such as white flour, sugar, and white rice lack B vitamins and other important nutrients unless they are marked “enriched.” It is healthiest to get carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible — for example from fruit instead of table sugar.
Carbs in Natural Foods
Sugar-carbs are also found in a range of natural food, including milk (containing lactose, or milk sugar), fruits, and sugar beet (containing sucrose).
Starch-carbs are found in all cereal grains, as well as roots and tubers. Starchy foods include: bread, pasta, rice, noodles, couscous, tapioca, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.
Dietary fiber carbohydrates (soluble and insoluble fiber) are found in most plant foods, like fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grain cereals.
Recommendations: Most people should get between 40% and 60% of total calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates (starches) and natural sugars. Complex carbohydrates provide calories, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
To increase complex carbohydrates and healthy nutrients:
• Eat more fruits and vegetables.
• Eat more whole-grain rice, breads, and cereals.
• Eat more legumes (beans, lentils, and dried peas).
Here are recommended serving sizes for foods high in carbohydrates:
• Vegetables: 1 cup of raw vegetables, 1/2 cup cooked vegetables, or 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
• Fruits: 1 medium-size fruit (such as 1 medium apple or 1 medium orange), 1/2 cup of a canned or chopped fruit (no sugar added), or 3/4 cup of fruit juice
• Breads and cereals: 1 slice of bread, 1 ounce or 2/3 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, lentils, or dried peas
• Dairy: 1 cup of skim or low-fat milk
It is also important to remember that carbohydrates contribute to the taste, texture and appearance of foods and help to make the diet more varied and enjoyable.
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