What’s a Carb?

Watch those carbs! They’re dangerous! They’re bad for you … right? Not so fast!!! They’re more complex than you think and essential for your best health.

Carbohydrates, also known as “carbs”, are one of the three macronutrients which is what we use to fuel our bodies. The other macronutrients, often referred to as macros, are fat and protein. Carbs and protein both have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram. Generally, it is recommended that an individual has between 45-65% of their daily caloric intake from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are foods that can be broken down in the digestive tract to either simple sugars (called monosaccharides, which is just one molecule of sugar) like glucose and fructose or fiber.

Carbohydrates are found in most foods: fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes (beans and lentils), and dairy (like milk and yogurt). Processed food products can be very high in carbohydrates and are known to have carbohydrates that are less healthy as they are often closer to glucose and fructose which will have a less desirable impact on blood sugar levels than foods that have a more complex carb structure, like whole-grains or vegetables.

Healthy carbs such as vegetables and whole grains contain both fiber and complex carbohydrate structures (containing 3 or more sugar molecules) which take longer to digest and absorb, and therefore do not release sugar molecules into the bloodstream as quickly as something like cake (made with processed white flour and sugar), soda (often made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)), or candy (also often made with HFCS and/or sugar).

The other benefit of whole food carbohydrates, or foods made from unprocessed plant foods and/or dairy, as opposed to carbohydrates in the form of highly processed foods, are the naturally occurring vitamins and phytonutrients which play a vital role in normal body function as well as prevention of disease.

The fiber in carbohydrates is essential for proper digestion but can also make a positive impact on blood cholesterol levels. It is recommended that a person should have approximately 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories consumed daily.

So while it is recommended to limit carbohydrates that come from processed foods, it is very desirable and healthy to consume carbohydrates originating in whole foods like apples, carrots, asparagus, oatmeal, and black beans. These are healthy foods containing lots of fiber and/or complex carbohydrates which will not only fuel your body but provide essential fiber.

And if you have more questions, please feel free to reach out to your friendly dietitian nutritionist, and contact me!