Carbohydrates Facts and Nutritional Importance

Carbohydrates are found in numerous foods and can be metabolised within our bodies into glucose, which provides us with a quick source of energy. An enzyme within the body, called amylase, works to break down carbohydrates that we consume into the easily utilizable glucose, which can be stored within the muscles and the liver (as glycogen) for use when needed.

9 Essential Facts About Carbohydrates You Ought to Know

1. Why Are Carbohydrates Needed?

When consumed, carbohydrates provide us with our main source of energy for background bodily functions, which include keeping organs running properly. Other benefits include:

  • Help to regulate levels of blood sugar.
  • Avoid the use of protein for energy purposes (as it is required for other important bodily functions, like growth and repair).
  • Achieve a feeling of fullness, which can help to avoid over-eating.
  • Help to prevent constipation, as well as fight against cancer and heart disease.

2. How Are Carbohydrates Utilized for Energy Purposes?

Carbohydrates are mainly broken down and metabolised in the gut, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream as individual molecules of glucose. Complex carbohydrates usually take longer to break down than their simple counterparts. The sugar molecules within our blood are transferred to our muscles and to the brain with assistance from the hormone called insulin. Any sugar (glucose) that is not required for energy is converted into, and stored as glycogen until needed. When stores become full, excess glucose is then stored as body fat.

3. Which Foods Contain Carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates, also called starchy foods or starch, are found naturally in many foods, as well as refined in foods that have been processed. Simple carbohydrates, also known as sugars, can also be found both naturally and refined. Below is a table listing foods that contain complex and simple carbohydrates:

Complex Carbohydrates

Bananas, barley, beans, biscuits, brown rice, cakes, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats, parsnips, pastries, pizza, potatoes, root vegetables, sugary processed cereals, sweet corn, white bread, white flour, white pasta, white rice, wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, wholemeal flour, wholemeal pasta, yams.

Simple Carbohydrates

Biscuits, cakes, chocolate, fruits, honey and jam, jellies, pizza, prepared sauces and foods, soft drinks, sweets and candy bars, vegetables, white and brown cane sugar.

4. What Quantity of Carbohydrates Should I Consume?

The daily requirement for carbohydrates is no doubt one of the facts about carbohydrates you should know about. The amount of carbohydrates you should have per day is about 225 and 325 grams provided you consume 2,000 calories a day. The figure is based on the recommendation given by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of the calories you consume in a day.

5. What Happens If I Don't Consume Enough Carbohydrates?

If you do not eat enough carbohydrates, then you may experience a drop in blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia), which can result in feelings of light headedness, weakness, and difficulty concentrating. Also, if you do not consume enough carbohydrates, your body will begin to use stored fat for energy, and will eventually utilize protein for energy, preventing it from being used for other important bodily functions.

6. Are Some Carbohydrates Better Than Other For Your Health?

There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are generally found in foods that are high in starch, such as legumes. Simple carbohydrates are often found in fruits and vegetables, as well as refined food products, such as sweets, white flour, and white cane sugar.

Complex carbohydrates are generally better for you than simple carbohydrates, due to the fact that they contain dietary fibre and more nutrients. When speaking of the sugar content, there is no difference between sugars obtained from an apple, honey, or even table sugar. When consumed, they are all utilized by the body in the same way.

7. Do Carbohydrates Make You Fat?

The answer to this is simple, excessive body fat and obesity is caused by eating too much and exercising too little. This means that regardless of what food group you consume, if you consume more calories than you actually use, you will likely put on weight. Below you can see how many calories are in a gram of carbohydrates, when compared to other food groups:

  • 3.75 calories are contained within 1g of carbohydrates
  • 4 calories are contained within 1g of protein
  • 9 calories are contained within 1g of fat
  • 7 calories are contained within 1g if alcohol

As you can see, carbohydrates contain the lowest calorie-per-gram ratio. Carbohydrates also help you feel fuller for longer, which can help to prevent overeating, as well as assist with digestive functions.

8. Are Carbohydrates Natural?

One of the facts about carbohydrates that many people are concerned with is whether they are natural or not. Complex carbohydrates and some simple carbohydrates are entirely natural and un-synthesized, as well as loaded with natural nutrients and fibre. For this reason, they should be the first option when looking for energy.

9. Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Good?

Generally speaking, cutting out any food group will likely lead to complications, and do more bad than good for your health, due to the fact that you won’t be getting enough of the essential nutrients that your body requires. In most cases, low-carbohydrate diets consist of a lot of fat, be it healthy or unhealthy, this can lead to numerous complications, including heart disease. To be honest, more research is needed in terms of whether low-carbohydrate diets are beneficial; the best way to ensure longevity of your health is to maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

Choose the Right Carbohydrates

Simply knowing the facts about carbohydrates is not enough; you should also know which one is best for your health. It is always advisable to consume wholegrain carbohydrates, especially those that are high in fibre. As a general rule, meals should consist of twice as many carbohydrates as there is protein. Each meal should be based on complex carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta. It is also best advised to reduce your consumption of refined food and sugars, as well as refined white flour and the products made from it (such as pizza and white pasta). It is also a good idea to consume plenty of fruit and fruit juices, as they not only contain carbohydrates, but also many other beneficial nutrients.

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