Carbohydrates and their function

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are an essential part of your diet, yet sometimes they get bad press because eating too many or the wrong type can cause weight gain and high blood sugar levels. The fact is that over or underemphasizing any element in what should be a balanced diet will cause an upset of some sort. Poor eating habits have many consequences,whichcan lead to a wide range of problem health issues.

Healthcare is one of the fastest growing industries in the US, and more and more people are taking advantage of online courses, such as those at Maryville University, to find out about good nutrition and the opportunities available to those who understand how to help themselves and other people to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

What are carbs?

Carbs are a large group of organic compounds found in living tissues and in foods. They include starches, sugars and fiber, plus oxygen and hydrogen, in ratios that are the same as those in water (2:1). When broken down, carbs provide you with an important source of energy.

There are three macronutrients, or large amounts of nutrients, that your body needs every day: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. When you hear people talk about complex carbohydrates, they are referring to starches that are found in foods such as legumes (members of the pea family), grains, and starchy vegetables, such as corn or potatoes. Simple carbohydrates is another name for sugars. These are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, honey and milk. Processed foods, such as sweets, sugary drinks and syrups, to name just a few, contain added sugars.

A vital source of energy

Depriving your body of sufficient carbs with the idea that you will lose weight and still stay healthy is a big mistake. Carbs help fuel your brain, central nervous system, heart, kidneys and muscles. Fiber in carbs helps your digestion, makes you feel full(thus preventing you from overeating) and provides a check on your blood cholesterol levels. If you consume extra carbohydrates, your liver and muscles can store these to support you during times when you are not getting sufficient carbs from your diet.

Too few carbs may cause you to experience bad breath, constipation, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, nausea, vitamin and mineral deficiencies or weakness.

Best carbs for you

Carbs loaded with nutrients are undoubtedly the best. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, helping you to feel full and stay satisfied, even when eating smaller portions.

Experts say you should try to get at least half of your carbs from whole grains. These include:

  • Amaranth.
  • Barley
  • Brown rice.
  • Oatmeal;
  • Wholegrain breakfast cereals and pasta.

Among the best fruits are:

  • Apples.
  • Bananas.
  • Berries.
  • Citrus fruits.
  • Kiwifruit.
  • Melons.

Among the best starchy vegetables are:

  • Carrots.
  • Corns.
  • Peas.
  • Sweet potatoes.

Among the best legumes are:

  • Black beans.
  • Chick peas.
  • Lentils
  • Navy beans.
  • Pinto beans.

Among the best dairy products are:

  • Low fat milk.
  • Plain yogurt.
  • Soy yogurt.

Alternative healthy sources of carbs

You can choose other foods that provide fewer carbs but which are still viable when it comes to staying healthy. These include non-starchy vegetables, such as:

• Asparagus.

• Broccoli.

• Cabbage.

• Cauliflower.

• Cucumbers.

• Green beans.

• Leafy greens.

When it comes to seeds and nuts, opt for:

• Almonds.

• Cashew nuts.

• Peanuts.

• Pistachios.

• Sunflower seeds.

When carbs go wrong

The right kinds of carbs are easy to find and healthy, however, consuming too many carbs or the wrong type or both combined can cause you to gain extra weight, perhaps more than is good for you. For instance, eating too many carbs can trigger hormone imbalances in your levels of cortisol, insulin and leptin, with unpleasant and problematic health consequences.

Cortisol is a stress hormone, while leptin governs how hungry you are, and insulin affects your blood sugar level and therefore your cravings for sweet things.

Regulating your intake of carbohydrates

There are a few things you can do to make sure you are giving your body the carbs it needs without overdoing it.

• Have a handful (and no more) of starchy whole food carbs with every meal.

• Include 100g of protein in each meal (enough to fill the palm of your hand).

• Eat up to two pieces of fruit every day (avoiding dried fruit if possible).

• Drink water, soda water (both plain) or herbal teas instead of sugary drinks.

• When drinking alcohol, choose low sugar alcoholic drinks.

• Avoid meals that are carbs only by adding some lean protein or healthy fat.

• If you feel anxious, bored or sad, look for alternative support rather than eating sweet things.