What Are Carbohydrates and Why Are They Important in your Lifestyle?

You’ll also hear terms like naturally occurring sugar, added sugar, low-calorie sweeteners, sugar alcohols, reduced-calorie sweeteners, processed grains, enriched grains, complex carbohydrate, sweets, refined grains, and whole grains.

No wonder knowing what kind and how much carbohydrate to eat can be confusing!

On the nutrition label, the term “total carbohydrate” includes all three types of carbohydrates. This is the number you should pay attention to if you are carbohydrate counting.

It’s all about carbs!  Carbohydrates control is the first step in gaining control of your blood sugar numbers. Carbs are the food group mainly responsible for raising blood sugar. While the body can make glucose from the protein and fats you may eat, it is slower in action and doesn’t usually cause the “spike” that carbs do.
Carbohydrate food

There are three types of carbohydrates — sugars, starches and fiber. To know how much carbohydrate you eat, you need to be clear about which foods are primarily carbohydrate and which contain enough carbs that they require counting. It’s not necessary to count “sugars” separately, they’re contained in the carb count and are basically still a “carb”.

In a healthy diet, most carbohydrate should come from nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods and complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables, nonfat or low fat milk, and yogurt contain a high volume of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein in proportion to their calorie content. These don’t cause your blood sugar to “spike” as high or as fast.

Simple sugars are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and can cause your blood sugar to rise very fast and high. These simple sugars are contained in fruit juices, regular sodas, many candies cakes and pies or other baked goods especially those made with white flour. Certain vegetables such as white potato and corn as well as many fruits also contain a large amount of simple starch and sugars and can cause the same blood sugar spike.

Sugar is another type of carbohydrate. You may also hear sugar referred to as simple or fast-acting carbohydrate. There are two main types of sugar:

  • naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk or fruit
  • added sugars such as those added during processing such as fruit canned in heavy syrup or sugar added to make a cookie

On the nutrition facts label, the number of sugar grams includes both added and natural sugars.

There are many different names for sugar. Examples of common names are table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and sugar cane syrup.

You may also see table sugar listed by its chemical name, sucrose. Fruit sugar is also known as fructose and the sugar in milk is called lactose. You can recognize other sugars on labels because their chemical names also end in “-ose.” For example glucose (also called dextrose), fructose (also called levulose), lactose, and maltose.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates require your body to do more processing to break them down for fuel, and usually take longer to get into your bloodstream. This causes a slower blood sugar rise usually. 

Natural complex carbohydrate foods can be less fattening than animal-protein foods that naturally contain fat and contain less calories.

Natural complex carbohydrate foods table
Vegetables Legumes Grains and cereal
 Beets  Red kidney beans  Rye
 Carrots  Mung beans  Whole wheat flour
 Onions  Lentils  Sunflower flour
 Parsley  Peas  Wheat bran
 Leeks  Bog beans  Rice bran
 Brussel sprouts  Black-eyed peas  Buckwheat
 Peppers  Soybeans  Breakfast cereals
 Cauliflower  Pinto beans  Barley
 Cabbage  Field beans Oatmeal

Starch(also known as complex carbohydrates)

Foods high in starch include:

  • Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, lima beans, and potatoes
  • Dried beans, lentils, and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, and split peas
  • Grains like oats, barley, and rice. (The majority of grain products in the US are made from wheat flour. These include pasta, bread, and crackers but the variety is expanding to include other grains as well.)

The grain group can be broken down even further into whole grain or refined grain.

A grain, let’s take wheat for example, contains three parts:

  • bran
  • germ
  • endosperm

The bran is the outer hard shell of the grain. It is the part of the grain that provides the most fiber and most of the B vitamins and minerals.

The germ is the next layer and is packed with nutrients including essential fatty acids and vitamin E.

The endosperm is the soft part in the center of the grain. It contains the starch. Whole grain means that the entire grain kernel is in the food.

If you eat a whole grain food, it contains the bran, germ, and endosperm so you get all of the nutrients that whole grains have to offer. If you eat a refined grain food, it contains only the endosperm or the starchy part so you miss out on a lot of vitamins and minerals. Because whole grains contain the entire grain, they are much more nutritious than refined grains.



Fiber

The structural component of plants. We are unable to digest a lot of the fiber in foods, and the fiber that our bodies can digest usually takes longer and creates less of a “spike” of blood sugar. Potatoes, dry beans, grains, rice, corn, squash and peas contain a large amounts of starch. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, lettuces and other greens are not starchy. The stems and leafy parts of plants do not contain much starch, but they do contain fiber. Since we can’t digest a lot of the fiber, that means that the green and leafy vegetables contain fewer calories than the starchy vegetables. Fiber is a diabetic’s friend because it takes longer to process in the body and slows down the absorption of the carbs.

Fiber comes from plant foods so there is no fiber in animal products such as milk, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish.

Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. When you consume dietary fiber, most of it passes through the intestines and is not digested.

For good health, adults need to try to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Most Americans do not consume nearly enough fiber in their diet, so while it is wise to aim for this goal, any increase in fiber in your diet can be beneficial. Most of us only get about ½ what is recommended.

Fiber contributes to digestive health, helps to keep you regular and helps to make you feel full and satisfied after eating. Additional health benefits, of a diet high in fiber — such as a reduction in cholesterol levels — have been suggested by some so may be an additional benefit.

Good sources of dietary fiber include:

  • Beans and legumes. Think black beans, kidney beans, pintos, chick peas (garbanzos), white beans, and lentils.
  • Fruits and vegetables, especially those with edible skin (for example, apples, corn and beans) and those with edible seeds (for example, berries).
  • Whole grains such as:
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole grain cereals (Look for those with three grams of dietary fiber or more per serving, including those made from whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats.)
  • Whole grain breads (To be a good source of fiber, one slice of bread should have at least three grams of fiber. Another good indication: look for breads where the first ingredient is a whole grain. For example, whole whe+at or oats.) Many grain products now have “double fiber” with extra fiber added.
  • Nuts — try different kinds. Peanuts, walnuts and almonds are a good source of fiber and healthy fat, but watch portion sizes, because they also contain a lot of calories in a small amount.

In general, an excellent source of fiber contains five grams or more per serving, while a good source of fiber contains 2.5 – 4.9 grams per serving.

It is best to get your fiber from food rather than taking a supplement. In addition to the fiber, these foods have a wealth of nutrition, containing many important vitamins and minerals. In fact, they may contain nutrients that haven’t even been discovered yet!

It is also important that you increase your fiber intake gradually, to prevent stomach irritation, and that you increase your intake of water and other liquids, to prevent constipation.

Because fiber is not digested like other carbohydrates, for carbohydrate counting purposes, if a serving of a food contains more than or equal to 5 grams of dietary fiber, you can subtract half the grams of dietary fiber from the total carbohydrate serving of that food.

Try to get your carbohydrates from healthy sources such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. But remember, even complex carbs are carbs and must be limited to avoid spikes in blood sugar.

Carbohydrates and Metabolism

Once the digestion process has begun and the food components are in your blood stream they are either used for energy, stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, or if there is more energy available than you can use, they are converted and stored as fat.

The storage of glucose is triggered by insulin, which forces your body to store any extra blood sugar as glycogen. People with diabetes or metabolic syndrome either can’t produce enough insulin or they are not sensitive enough to the insulin they produce and need to regulate their blood glucose with medications, insulin or dietary changes.

How To Count Carbohydrates

Start by giving yourself some limits: Some suggested limits would be for women 20-40 per meal and 15 per snack. Men can usually have higher limits. Remember,  these are just suggestions. By testing you will find the amount of carbs that work for you.

How many carbohydrates should you eat a day?

Everyone has different carb needs, it depend on active or sedentary lifestyle you have, men or women you are. It is nearly 60 percent of the calories you eat every day should come from carbohydrates.

calories and carbs intale table
person low physical activity
calories/ carbs (g)
high physical activity
calories/ carbs (g)
Children 2-3 years old  1000/ 125  1200/ 150
Children 4-8 years old  1200/ 150  1400/ 175
Girls 9-13 years old  1600/ 200  1800/ 225
Boys 9-13 years old>  1800/ 225  2000/ 250
Girls 14-18 years old  1800/ 225  2200/ 275
Boys 14-18 years old  2200/ 275  2800/ 350
Females 19-30 years old  2000/ 250  2300/ 287
Males 19-30 years old  2400/ 300  2900/ 362
Females 31-50 years old  1800/ 225  2200/ 275
Males 31-50 years old  2200/ 275  2800/ 350
Females under 50 years old  1600/ 200  2000/ 250
Males 50 years old  2000/ 250  2600/ 325



A few foods like table sugar and lollipops are entirely carbohydrate, so their weight on a gram scale will be exactly the same as the number of grams of carbohydrate they contain. Most foods, however, have only part of their total weight as carbohydrate. The carb content of these foods can be determined by food labels, reference books or software, or a scale.

Like any new skill, counting grams of carbohydrates will take a couple of weeks to master. You will need to weigh and measure foods consistently for a while. As time passes, you will train your eye to estimate accurately both serving sizes and weights, whether eating out or at home. As you look up the foods you commonly eat, make a list of them for easy reference. Keep that list next to your food log, and use it to figure the carbs in a meal before you decide how much to eat.
Pastas and whole-grain breads contain complex carbohydrates, which are long strands of glucose molecules. Nutritionists recommend that 55–60 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, and especially complex carbohydrates. [Photograph by James Noble. Corbis. Reproduced by permission.]
Food labels contain information you need to do carb counting. Just be sure your serving size is the same size as the serving on the label, or calculate on the basis of the amount you’ll be eating. For example, lets say you want to eat an 8 ounce carton of low fat yogurt. The label that tells you that a one cup or 8 ounce serving contains 18 grams of carbohydrates. If the serving you eat differs from the serving size listed on the package, you will have to weigh or measure your actual serving and do some minor calculations to determine your carb amount. Also look for “tricks”.  A muffin label might say 20 grams and you say “Great, I can have that many”.  Then you look at the serving size and it lists half a muffin!  Would most people eat half?  Watch out for tricks like this.:smileymad:

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