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Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

They are normally broken down into five major classifications of carbohydrates:

  • Monosaccharides.
  • Disaccharides.
  • Oligosaccharides.
  • Polysaccharides.
  • Nucleotides.

Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy diet.

Carbohydrates usually provide about half of your body’s energy needs when you’re resting or performing a low-level activity. About half the energy you burned last night while sleeping came from carbohydrates sources. And probably fifty percent of the energy you’re using right now, reading these words, comes from carbs.

Carbohydrates are considered the energy nutrient, because your body can break them down and use them very quickly.

How Much Carbohydrate Do You Need Daily?

It’s possible you haven’t asked yourself this question. If you have or haven’t, here’s an answer for you.

For the average person, carbohydrates needs can be about sixty to three hundred and sixty grams per day (60g – 360g). That’s roughly the equivalent of two to thirteen ounces of pure carbohydrates.

You’ve probably heard of runners or triathletes who do “carb-loading” before a big race; that’s because they’re going to be tapping a huge amount of that particular energy reservoir when they excess hard. The requirements are a lot less, of course, if you hardly exercise.

Sources Of Carbohydrates

Sources of carbohydrates are all over the place. See that sugar bowl? Carbohydrates. Rice has carbohydrates. Apples, spaghetti, popcorn, potatoes, and cookies. And in baked products labeled “fat-free,” most of the fat content has been replaced with carbohydrates.

Types of Carbohydrates

All carbs are not created equal. There are two basic types.

  • Simple carbohydrates
  • Complex carbohydrates

The so-called simple carbohydrates are the sugars. Table sugar, any syrup, honey, and the sugar in fruits are all simple carbohydrates. The complex carbohydrates are probably alled starches. Complex carbs include vegetables such as potatoes and corn and grain products such as bread, pasta, and cereals.

Among the complex carbohydrates, there’s a further distinction. Refined grain products such as white rice and white breads tend to suffer from processing. While these foods are being spruced up for delivery to our plates, they lose a lot of their hearty nutrients.

Often, the packager takes steps to remedy that by enriching the food with iron and some B vitamins that are lost in processing.

Whole grain products—also complex carbohydrates— retain more of another Nature’s supply of nutrients. Whole wheat bread and brown rice, for instance, have more protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their refined cousins.

They also contain a whole category of beneficial nutrients that are often in short supply— the phytonutrients. These are health- promoting substances found in plants (aside form vitamins, minerals, and fiber).