What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are the body’s main and favorite source of energy. 

This is why athletes fuel up on carbs to power up their lifestyle. Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for all the body’s cells. 

Carbs are also the prime source of blood glucose, which is the only source of energy for the brain and red blood cells. 

With the exception of milk and milk products (cheese, sour cream, yogurt, half-and-half, buttermilk, etc.), carbohydrates are only found in plant-based foods. There are two types of carbs, simple and complex.

Simple Carbohydrates are also known as simple sugars, and they mainly include fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). 

Do not automatically equate fructose (fruit sugar) to fruit; not all of the sugars in fruit are fructose.  These carbs are referred to as being “simple” because they are relatively easy for your body to digest.

Complex Carbohydrates are also made of sugar, but their molecular structure is more “complex,” and they take a longer amount of time to break down in your body (digest). Legumes, vegetables, and 100% whole grains all contain complex carbohydrates.

Nutrition experts suggest complex carbs should make up half of the calories in your diet. Your goal should be to fill up that half of your diet with nutrient-rich complex carbohydrates: shoot for delicious and healthy options like spinach, collards, sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, bran cereal, rolled oats (oatmeal), etc. 

Most options on the preceding list also include the benefit of being rich in fiber as well (fiber is also a carbohydrate).

As a general rule, most of the foods you consume should be nutrient-rich as opposed to nutrient-poor, empty calories like white bread, donuts, potato chips, candy, etc.

Because all carbs contain sugar (sugar is a carbohydrate), people, particularly people who have diabetes, should limit their consumption of carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates.  

The more carbs you eat, the greater the effect on your blood sugar.  One of the best routes for optimal blood sugar levels is careful monitoring of daily carbohydrate intake.

Although popular diet programs like the Atkins diet suggest that you dramatically cut out carbs, it would be a wise choice to simply follow the Recommended Daily Allowance of all foods instead of cutting out an entire group.  

Remember, when you want to power-up, carbohydrates are your best fuel source.