Nutritionists agree that carbohydrates are the most important source of energy. Known as “sugars” or “saccharides”, these have the characteristic of being related to the sweet taste.

Although they are essential for the functioning of the body, their excess can do more harm than good, especially when the carbohydrates we choose are not adequate. Why are carbohydrates worth it and which ones are the most beneficial for our health? Get to know them below.

What are carbohydrates?

The carbohydrates are the energy source most important for our body, in addition also they perform many physiological functions. Despite what is believed, carbohydrates are healthy for the digestive system, however, some of them should be avoided. This is why it is worth knowing which carbohydrates to avoid.

Carbohydrates are, in other words, saccharides (in the simplest terms, sugars), a large group of chemical compounds. Carbohydrates are organic compounds that, due to their structure, are divided into: simple sugars (monosaccharides) and complex sugars (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides).

Carbohydrate group

The group of carbohydrates includes, among others. Glucose, lactose, sucrose, and starch. Because this is a large group, we should not generalize the impact of carbohydrates on our body. We need a lot of carbohydrates, but it is essential to find a diet to include them in the correct form.

Simple sugars (monosaccharides)

Simple sugars include: glucose (grape sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), and galactose (part of disaccharides, for example lactose).

1. Glucose

Glucose is commonly found in plant products, fruit juices (the most abundant source is grape juice). The glucose content in fruits and vegetables increases during the growth of the vegetable and decreases during a long period of storage.

Glucose is also found in potatoes and honey, it is a component of sucrose (sweetening sugar, including our beverages), starch and cellulose. An important characteristic of glucose is fermentation under the influence of yeast, used for the production of stronger wines and alcohols.

2. Fructose

Fructose also occurs in fruits and in honey, which is much sweeter than other carbohydrates. This means that fructose syrups (produced from corn syrup) are now widely used in the food industry, in the production of beverages, desserts, among other foods.

The currently observed increase in fructose consumption (due to its use in the production of sweet-tasting foods) is the reason for the increase in body weight in children and adults.

The metabolic effect of fructose differs significantly from that of glucose, which means that it does not increase the production of insulin (pancreatic hormone) and leptin (satiety hormone secreted mainly by adipose tissue). However, fructose increases triglyceride synthesis in the liver , which promotes hypertriglyceridemia (increased serum triglycerides).

In the diet, in addition to mono-sugars, there are also disaccharides, called oligosaccharides, made up of two simple sugar molecules (sucrose, lactose, maltose).

3. Sucrose

Sucrose, commonly known as “sugar,” is made up of fructose and glucose molecules.

4. Lactose

Lactose (milk sugar) is made from galactose and glucose and, as the name suggests, is found in large amounts in milk.

5. Maltose

Maltose is a sugar composed of two glucose molecules, which is produced in large quantities in malt: “malt sugar” (in sprouted cereal grains, especially barley, rich in enzymes that hydrolyze starch).

It is used for the production of baby food, diet preparations and sweets, it is also used for brewing, distilling and baking.

Complex sugars

Complex sugars, or polysaccharides, include: starch (found as a reserve substance in potatoes and cereal products, root vegetables, and fruits) and glycogen (a reserve material in animal tissues).

1. Starch

Starch is a difficult sugar to digest, so products containing this polysaccharide must undergo heat treatment before cooking (boiling, baking, frying), which causes the breakdown of starch into simpler sugars (dextrins), soluble in water and easier to digest.

2. Glycogen

Glycogen is found mainly in the muscles and liver of animals. In the body, it can be synthesized from simple sugars, from organic acids and nitrogen-free parts of amino acids, and stored in the liver, muscles, kidneys, heart muscle, brain, and platelets. Around 350-450 g of glycogen are found in the human body.

Multiple sugars

Multiple sugars also include dietary fiber, consisting of: cellulose, lignin, hemicelluloses, pectins, and other compounds.

These substances are not digested in the human digestive tract, which means that they are not absorbed and therefore are not converted into nutrients and energy. Its characteristic is that they irritate the walls of the intestine and stimulate its peristaltic movements , which accelerates the excretion of fecal masses (prevents constipation, intestinal diverticula and inflammatory bowel conditions, among others).

The fiber requirement is 25-40 g per day. However, the average consumption of this ingredient per day only reaches 15 g in countries of America and Europe.

What is the function of carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates for the human body are a type of fuel necessary to maintain adequate body temperature, provide energy for physical and intellectual activity and help in the work of all internal organs, including the brain for which carbohydrates are the “basis of the diet ”.

On average, carbohydrates provide 40-80% of the daily energy requirement . Both absorbable (entering the bloodstream) and nonabsorbable (dietary fiber) carbohydrates are important.

Acceptable carbohydrates

Acceptable carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the nervous system and red blood cells. They play an important role in the oxidation of fatty acids, while proteins and fats contribute to the construction of cell structures.

Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen are stored in the liver and muscles, being the reserve material used by the body to work the muscles during physical activity and to supplement the adequate level of glucose in the blood .

Unacceptable carbohydrates

Unacceptable carbohydrates give us a short-term performance boost, quickly followed by poor performance and prolonged fatigue. The worst happens when the body tries to go back to sugar, to experience that high again, so there is a voracious attack on sweets and the dreaded cravings arise.

This sets off a vicious cycle, however anyone can escape this by learning to eat a healthy diet, especially with healthy carbohydrates.

In the case of a deficiency of acceptable carbohydrates in the diet, incomplete combustion of fatty acids and the formation of ketone bodies can occur that acidify the body.

What carbohydrates should we choose?

The carbohydrates that are most recommended to add to our diet are those that the body takes to absorb, which are known as complex carbohydrates, however, it is necessary to know the correct combinations of healthy fats, carbohydrates and proteins in order to achieve that blood sugar levels do not rise and other health conditions are not affected.

1. Whole grains

These grains contain more fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains and refined sugars. The US Department of Agriculture recommends that at least half of the grains eaten be whole grains.

Recommended whole grains include oat bran, oatmeal, quinoa, whole grains, whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole couscous, barley, bulgur and wheat bran.

2. Fruits and vegetables

The fruits and vegetables are healthy carbohydrates because they are low in calories, high in fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals necessary for the body.

It is necessary to choose whole and fresh fruits and vegetables with the peel and consume them preferably chewed, in this way they are better used: carbohydrates are assimilated slower and gives us more fiber.

It is advisable to consume 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables per day if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet.

3. Legumes

Legumes are a good source of healthy carbohydrates because they are high in fiber and soluble protein. Eating 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber per day can help lower high blood cholesterol levels.

Examples of legumes include black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, chickpeas, and lentils, which can contain up to 8 grams of fiber in 1/2 cup.

4. Low-fat dairy products

Low-fat dairy products are considered healthy carbohydrates because they are high in protein and calcium, and contain fewer calories than whole dairy products.

Regular consumption of dairy products can even help control weight. Preferably, if you do not suffer from lactose intolerance , you can opt for Greek yogurt which is low in carbohydrates.

 Considerations for diabetics

Although carbohydrates are an important source of energy, they also cause a spike in blood sugar, especially if they are simple carbohydrates.

It is necessary to consult with the doctor or dietician about the amount of carbohydrates that you can consume at each meal. According to the American Diabetes Association, a good place to start is to limit your carbohydrate intake to 45 to 60 grams per meal.

Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, or GI, cause blood sugar to rise faster than low GI foods. Most high-fiber foods and dairy products have lower GIs than grains and refined sugars.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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