Why You Should Include Carbs in Your Diet

Carbohydrates are found in various forms such as sugar and dietary fiber and are found in a variety of foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In this post, we will look at the variety of carbohydrates found in our diet and their main functions in our bodies.

Main Functions Of Carbs In Our Body

Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet. Most importantly, they provide energy not only for the most obvious functions of our body, such as movement or thinking, but also participate in many internal body processes
We’re going to look at the most important function of carbohydrates – energy.

Carbs as a major source of energy

The best source of energy for our body is carbohydrates, which are broken down to glucose, because cells in the brain, muscles and all other tissues directly utilize monosaccharides to meet their energy needs. Different carbohydrates can provide different amounts of energy, e.g.:

4 kcal comes from starch and sugar, which are the main energy-supplying carbohydrates

2.4 kcal comes from polyols or so-called sugar alcohols, which also have a sweet taste and can be used in food products in a similar way to sugar, but are lower in calories than regular table sugar. Interestingly, erythritol is not digested at all and therefore provides 0 calories.

2 kcal is dietary fiber. For a long time, dietary fiber was considered useless ballast, because it is not digested and leaves the body virtually unchanged. But the more scientists studied microflora, the more it became obvious that dietary fiber has a very important function.

WHO recommends consuming at least 25 g per day of naturally occurring dietary fiber found in foods.

Monosaccharides are directly absorbed by the small intestine into the bloodstream, from where they are delivered to the necessary cells. Some hormones, including insulin and glucagon, are also part of the digestive system. They maintain blood sugar levels by removing or adding glucose to the bloodstream as needed.

If glucose is not used directly, the body converts it into glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles as a readily available source of energy. When needed, such as between meals, at night, during physical activity or short fasts, the body converts glycogen back into glucose to maintain a constant blood sugar level.

The brain and red blood cells are particularly dependent on glucose as an energy source and may utilize other forms of energy from fat in extreme circumstances, such as very prolonged fasting. This is why blood glucose levels must be kept at optimal levels at all times.

Types of Carbohydrates

When considering carbohydrates, we can say that they are made up of building blocks – sugars. They can be classified by the number of sugar units combined in a molecule.

Examples of mono-component sugars are the monosaccharides glucose and galactose.

Divalent sugars, among which the best known are lactose and sucrose are called disaccharides.

Simple carbohydrates are commonly referred to as monosaccharides and disaccharides.

Carbohydrates that have long chain molecules such as starch or dietary fiber are called complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbs

Simple carbohydrates are simple sugars. Sugars are found in a variety of natural foods, including fruits, vegetables, and milk, and give foods a sweet taste. However, they also rapidly raise blood glucose levels.

Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides found in fruits, vegetables, honey, and such foods. Fructose is absorbed more slowly in the intestine and is 50% converted to glucose. In the liver, fructose is partially converted to very low density lipoproteins and in large amounts contributes to liver obesity.

Table sugar or sucrose is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose and occurs naturally in sugar beets, sugar cane and fruits.

Lactose, a disaccharide composed of glucose and galactose, is the major carbohydrate in milk and dairy products. Lactose is broken down slowly in the intestine and promotes the growth of lactic acid bacteria. Some people have a partial or complete lack of the enzyme lactase, so lactose is not broken down and flatulence and diarrhea occur.

Maltose is a glucose disaccharide found in malt and starch-based syrups

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are commonly added to foods by manufacturers, chefs and consumers and are called “additional sugars”. They may also occur as “free sugars”, which are found naturally in honey and fruit juices.

Complex Carbs

Complex carbohydrates have a complex structure and take a long time to digest (also called slow carbohydrates), providing the body with energy for a long time. They are very important in a healthy diet because they provide a quick and lasting feeling of satiety and promote proper digestion. Complex carbohydrates are grains and legumes, beets, potatoes, carrots, seeds, nuts.

Complex carbohydrates are categorized into several types:

  • Starch, which consists of a large number of glucose molecules. It dissolves in water and normalizes digestion. It is contained in rice, potatoes, buckwheat groats, pasta.
  • Fiber, the structure of which is so complex that it is digested only partially. Reduces cholesterol and makes digestion more efficient.
  • Glycogen – accumulates in the body as an energy reserve. It is included in fish, liver and other by-products.
  • Pectin – a polysaccharide that destroys toxins and other harmful substances.

When choosing starchy foods such as rice, bread and any other flour products, it is best to favor whole-grain versions of these foods

What is the glycemic index (GI)?

The glycemic index (GI) shows how quickly each food affects blood sugar (glucose) levels when consumed on its own.

Foods With a High GI:

Carbohydrate foods that are quickly broken down by the body and cause a sharp rise in blood glucose levels have a high GI. High GI foods include:

  • Sugar and sugar-containing products
  • Soft drinks with a high sugar content
  • White bread
  • Potatoes
  • White rice

Low and Medium GI Foods

Low to medium GI foods break down more slowly and cause a gradual increase in blood sugar levels over time. Examples of low-GI foods are:

  • Certain fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Whole-grain foods such as oatmeal

Are Low GI Foods More Healthy?

Some low-GI foods, such as whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, are foods we should eat as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

However, using the glycemic index to determine whether foods or combinations of foods are healthy can be misleading.

Foods with a high GI are not necessarily unhealthy, and not all foods with a low GI are healthy. For example, watermelon is a high GI food, while chocolate cake has a lower GI.

In addition, foods that contain or are cooked with fat and protein slow the absorption of carbohydrates, lowering their GI. For example, chips have a lower GI than potatoes cooked without fat. However, chips are high in fat, so you should eat them in moderation, or eliminate them from your diet altogether.

If you only eat low-GI foods, your diet may be unbalanced and high in fat.

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