The Polarizing World of Carbohydrates

Let’s dig into the polarizing world of carbohydrates!  Some people avoid them completely, while others can’t imagine living life without them.  So what’s the scoop?  Are they okay in moderation?  Do “good carbs” really exist?

First, let’s define what a carbohydrate is.  Carbohydrates are molecules that have carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.  When it comes to nutrition, a carbohydrate is one of three macronutrients, whose main purpose is to provide energy.  Most carbs are broken down and transformed into glucose or turned into fat (stored energy) for later use. Fiber, on the other hand, does not provide energy directly.  It feeds the friendly bacteria in our digestive system, producing fatty acids that some of our cells can use for energy.

Instead of focusing on the words “good” and “bad” carbohydrates, let’s break them down into simple vs. complex.  Simple carbohydrates are sugars that provide a quick source of energy. Examples of simple carbs are bread, pasta, sugary drinks, fruit juices, and pastries.  Complex carbohydrates, like fiber and starch, are longer chains of molecules that take the body longer to break down.  Examples of complex carbs are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and potatoes.

The body is able to function properly without carbohydrates. However, there are many carbohydrate-rich foods that are healthy and nutritious, such as fruits and vegetables, which provide other health benefits.  Studies show that a diet with moderate carbohydrate intake lowers the risk of death over diets with both low and high carbs. A moderate amount of carbs in a diet is a caloric intake of 50-55% of carbohydrates. If you want to stay within a healthy range, try reducing your refined carbohydrate intake of white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, and many breakfast cereals.  Replace these with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  You can also replace dairy products and meats with plant-based proteins and fats to further moderate your daily intake of carbohydrates.

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