is the macronutrient that we need in the largest amount and provides the body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates are the major source of fuel for the body – the body can use fat or protein for fuel, but these nutrients are put to better use for building cells and tissues. In foods, carbohydrates provide flavor (such as sweetness) and structure (such as fiber in a carrot or a stalk of celery). Fiber provides bulk to the diet and assists with regularity. If we didn’t consume enough carbohydrate in the diet, it would be difficult to get through daily activities or to exercise adequately. Fiber is important in the diet to help keep the digestive tract running smoothly. And, having enough carbohydrate in the diet means that we don’t have to use dietary protein for fuel – that way, protein can be spent to build and repair tissue. Starchy foods such as potatoes, peas, corn and grain products (rice, cereal, bread, pasta, crackers, etc.) are ‘carbs’, but fruits and vegetables are also excellent sources of carbohydrate. Sugars – like table sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup – are also sources of ‘simple’ carbohydrates. The healthiest carbohydrate sources are whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains like whole wheat, barley or oats, because these foods provide not only carbohydrate, but also fiber and phytonutrients for good health.
The most simple carbohydrates are sugars such as glucose, table sugar and lactose / milk sugar. Foods high in simple sugars tend to be refined and to generally contain fewer essential vitamins and minerals. They are digested and absorbed quickly by the body and so provide a fast acting source of energy. Simple carbohydrates food sources are fruit juice, yoghurt, honey, muffins and cakes.
Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly than simple sugars. They are broken down during the digestion process to simple sugars. The time taken to break them down means they are digested and absorbed into the body more slowly. So carbohydrates are converted into glucose which provides you with energy! Surplus glucose can be stored in the muscles and live for supply of direct fuel – any further surplus is converted into fat. Complex carbohydrates food sources fruits, vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta.