It what can only be described as the “circle of life”, every six months we see a new study claiming that a high-carb diet is better than high-protein diet or vice versa.
What is most important to the question what are carbs is to understand what are good, and what are bad carbs. Essentially, your body needs carbs to function properly, as carbs are one of the three main sources of energy in our bodies.
When you think of carbs, think of sugars, fiber, and starches that are found in dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Carbs, along with protein and fats are macronutrients that are essential for our body to function properly. Macronutrients, no matter if they are carbs, protein or fat, need to be obtained through our diet, as the body cannot produce them on its own.
And if you were wondering why the name carbs, it comes from the chemical composition of carbs, which is carbonate, hydrogen, and oxygen.
What do Carbs Do?
Now that we know the answer to the question what are carbs, the next question is what do they do? As mentioned, carbs provide our body with fuel and energy. But their most important task is to provide energy for our central nervous system and working muscles.
Carbs are the most important macronutrient for our brain function, as they influence mood, memory and much more. Additionally, carbs prevent the protein from being used as energy source.
Simple versus Complex
There are two ways to divide carbs into groups, and the first way is to divide them into simple and complex carbohydrates. The difference between simple and complex carbs is in the chemical structure, and how quickly the sugar from the carbs is digested.
Simple carbs are made from one or two sugars at max. A common type of sugar is fructose, found in fruits, and galactose, found in dairy products. The single sugars are called monosaccharides while carbs with two sugars are called disaccharides.
Complex carb contains three or more sugars in their chemical structure. They are called polysaccharides and are often referred as starchy foods.
Types of Carbs
As mentioned at the beginning, carbs include sugars, fiber, and starches. The end result of digestion is our body trying to break down complex carbs into simple and smaller units, such as fructose and glucose.
Let’s start with starches, also known as complex carbs. Foods high in starch include vegetables like corn, potatoes and lima beans (often called starchy vegetables), dried beans and lentil, and grains like barley, rice, and oats. Grains can be further broken down to whole or refined grains. It is best that you consume whole grains food, as they come with all the nutrients from the grain (endosperm, germ, and bran).
Sugars are next on the list, and there are two types of it: naturally occurring and added sugars. When you read the nutrition facts on the label, look for the number of added sugars. If that number is too high, you want to avoid it.
Fiber is last on the carbs list, the compound that is crucial for digestion. There is no fiber in animal products, and you will have to source it from plant foods such as fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and vegetables.
As a general rule of thumb, you need between 25 and 30 grams of fiber per day. To get to that number, look for food sources that contain between 3 and 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Good versus Bad Carbs
Finally, the last classification is good and bad carbs. For a healthy lifestyle, you want good carbs, in the same way as you need good fats. People trying to lose weight usually think they need to cut down carbs completely and focus mainly on protein. And there comes the biggest mistake you can make.
Good carbs come from fruits, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains. Good carbs are good for you because they are low in calorie density, high in nutrients, high in naturally occurring fiber, they lower blood sugar levels, they lower LDL bad cholesterol levels and are low in sodium and saturated fat.
Bad fats, on the other hand, are usually fake and processed foods that are high in calorie density, high in refined sugars, high in refined grains, high in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and low in fiber and nutrients.