Carbs get a bad rap. Next to sugar and all fats it gets fingers pointed at for just about everything from elevated blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain and obesity and low energy levels. There are good carbs and bad carbs just like there are good fats and bad fats, good sugars and bad sugars. Hopefully, this post while help clear up some confusion about carbs by providing basic information, if not, well there is a comment box below.
What Are Carbohydrates?
They are organic compounds that have saccharide in them. Translation, it is made up of carbon (this makes it organic), oxygen and hydrogen you can see it in the name CARB (carbon) O (Oxygen) HYDRATE (H2O). Saccharide is a fancy name for sugar. Enough of the mini chemistry review! Carbs get broken down into two type simple or complex as seen below:
- Have monosaccharides (one sugar) and disaccharides (two sugars).
o Common monosaccharides are: trioses, tetroses and hexoses
o Common disaccharides are: sucrose, maltose, and lactose.
- Are digested and absorbed quickly in the body.
- Found in fruits, veggies, milk products, candy, soda & sweets.
- Long chains of sugars linked together and tends to include fiber.
- Very long chains are called polysaccharides or polysaccharide starches which are very common in the typical American diet.
- Need to be digested before being used as energy.
- Leaves you feeling fuller for a longer amount of time.
o Starch: most digestible poly, is a major energy source.
o Pectin: poly that is between plant cells, when heated or chilled it gets ‘gelly’ and is used to make jelly.
o Chitin: strengthens the outer shell of bugs and shellfish, our systems cannot digest these as they are near indestructible.
o Glycogen: found in the liver and muscles of animals and made up of glucose.
o Cellulose: made of several glucose units that are difficult for our bodies to break down.
Why We Need Carbs
They have glucose in them which our bodies need to break down for energy purposes, the right levels are glucose are needed to keep your blood sugar from getting to high or too low. Not enough glucose leads to low blood sugar which can make you feel dizzy, tired or even light headed, too much glucose leads to high blood sugar (think sugar rush and subsequent crash).
- Main source of fuel for our bodies.
- Help the nervous system, brain, muscles and brain to function.
- Can be stored in muscles for later use.
- Helps keep your digestive tract healthy.
Daily Amount & Sources
The USDA recommends that 45% – 65% of your daily calories should come from carbs, so if you eat around 2,000 calories a day you should make sure around 250 grams are from complex carbs if you.
- 4 calories per gram.
- Found in almost all foods minus eggs, meat and poultry.
- Starchy carbs are found in bread, flour, pasta, cereals and rice.
- Fruits and veggies contain starches and sugars.
There is a reason carbs have such a rotten rap. If consumed in large quantities it can indeed cause the things it is accused of such as low energy, heart disease, and weight gain. Moderation is key for what you put into your body! Which consuming carbs is good, you don’t want to overdo it, if you consume more than you burn your body is going to convert the extra calories as fat. Carbs themselves do not just become fat, they are converted to glycogen which can then become fat.
- Too many carbs can cause a double secretion of insulin, the first gives you energy and stabilizes your blood sugar while the second secretion elevates your insulin levels even more, more glucose is produced and it gets stored as glycogen.
- Can lead to insulin resistance where fewer carbs are stored as energy and more goes to the liver to become triglycerides and then body fat.
- Metabolic syndrome can occur because of the above which can elevate cholesterol levels, blood pressure and cause problems with blood clotting.
- Heart disease can occur from the above two bullets, the elevated levels can cause heart to set off an inflammatory reaction that ends up causing plaque buildup in your arteries. A buildup of plaque is serious, blood cannot flow properly if the vessels are partially or fully clogged, when blood cannot get to the heart as efficiently or at all, it will stop.
Read Your Labels!
To prevent the chaos from above happening you need to take control of how many carbs you consume. You can do this by reading the nutrition facts while you are shopping. It sounds like it will add on a ton of extra time but once you get the hang of it you can tell by glancing at items if it is something you should eat or not.
- Carbs are broken down in several parts.
o Total Carbohydrate: usually the total amount from the grams of fiber, sugars and other carbs, will also show the percentage of daily value based off a 2,000 (usually) calorie diet. Tip: this is per serving, if it says only 11% of the daily value and you eat two servings, it is now 22% of the daily value.
o Dietary Fiber: I didn’t cover the role of fiber in carbs but I will in a future post. This is the amount of carbs that your body doesn’t really digest and will move throughout your body without being absorbed. This is commonly subtracted from the total carbohydrate count as your body doesn’t digest it and it doesn’t affect your blood sugar. I will talk about this more in future fiber post.
o Sugar: this is all sources of sugars here.
Sample label from the FDA.
There is a lot of information out there about carbs, often times that information overload can be confusing, I hope this helps clear up some of that said confusion, have a wonderful day!