In the past few years, the nutritional value of carbohydrates has been the subject of debate. According to the current dietary guidelines, carbs should make up about half of your calorie intake. Many people claim that all carbs are unhealthy and can lead to diabetes and obesity, and several popular diets involve reducing carb intake. However, not all carbs should be treated equally. Some are much healthier than others, and you can receive plenty of great nutrition from the right carbs.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients, the other two being protein and fat. All carbs fall into one of three categories: sugars, starches, or fiber. Sugars are short-chain carbs such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Starches are long-chain carbs that your body breaks down into glucose. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body, but it can aid the bacteria in the digestive system.
Because most carbs are broken down into glucose, they provide energy to the body. For the average person, carbs are an essential part of the body’s nutritional needs. The National Academies Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get 45 percent to 65 percent of their daily calories from healthy carbs.
Good carbohydrates, also known as complex carbohydrates, are made up of a long series of sugars. Because these carbs have a complex makeup, it takes the body a while to fully break them down. They slowly and consistently release sugar into the body, which gives you a steady amount of energy for a long period of time. Good carbs are also usually high in fiber, which is very filling and lowers the body’s blood sugar levels. They are lower in calories, sodium, and saturated fat than bad carbs.
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of good carbohydrates and fiber. You can get at least 10 grams of fiber per day by eating five servings of fruits and vegetables. Legumes like beans and lentils also contain complex carbohydrates. Unprocessed whole grains like oats, rye, and quinoa are a great source of good carbs as well.
Bad carbohydrates, or simple carbohydrates, are made up of basic sugars. These are much easier to digest than complex carbohydrates, which means your body quickly breaks them down and receives a short spike in energy instead of a steady supply. Bad carbs also have a higher sugar content and a lower fiber content. They have significantly less nutritional value than complex carbs, and they have a much higher calorie density.
Most processed foods contain bad carbs. To limit your intake of simple carbohydrates, try to avoid soda, candy, white rice, potatoes, and most pastries and desserts. Foods made from white flour, like white bread, most pizza dough, some breakfast cereals, and hamburger buns have high levels of simple carbs as well. It’s okay to enjoy these foods occasionally, but complex carbs are a much healthier source of nutrition. Also, some simple carbs are worse than others. For example, baked potatoes and white rice are better than cakes or pies.
Everybody has slightly different nutritional needs, but overall, complex carbs are important for your body to receive energy. In most cases, drastically reducing your carb intake can lead to you feeling weak or fatigued. The negative health effects of carbs are mostly found in simple carbs like desserts and junk food. To stay in good health, eat plenty of complex carbs while avoiding simple carbs as much as possible.
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