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Nutrition and Diet (cont.)

Carbohydrates

The emergence of low-carbohydrate diets has resulted in confusion over whether carbohydrates are good or bad. Carbohydrates are one of the six essential nutrients. This means that they are essential for your health, so there is no way that omitting them from your diet would be beneficial. An excess intake of any nutrient will cause weight gain. The key is to consume the appropriate sources and amounts of carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for your body. Your red blood cells and most parts of your brain derive all of their energy from carbohydrates. An adequate consumption of carbohydrates also allows your body to use protein and fat for their necessary requirements, it prevents ketosis, it provides fiber, and it's the source of sweetness in your foods.

Carbohydrates are all made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but they are not equal in terms of their nutritional value. This is where the concept of good and bad carbohydrates probably began. Based on the structure, carbohydrates are divided into two categories:

1. Simple carbohydrates

  • Monosaccharide
    • Fructose (fruit sugar)
    • Glucose (blood sugar)
    • Galactose (part of milk sugar)
  • Disaccharide: two monosaccharides combined
    • Sucrose: a combination of fructose and glucose (table sugar)
    • Maltose: a combination of glucose and glucose
    • Lactose: a combination of galactose and glucose (milk sugar)

2. Complex carbohydrates

  • Polysaccharide: a combination of thousands of glucose units (starch, glycogen, fiber)

Ultimately, all of these carbohydrates are broken down and converted into glucose. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and provide fiber, so they are the best source of carbohydrates. This does not mean that fruit or milk is not a healthy source. The skin and the seeds in the fruit are sources of fiber, so they contain both simple and complex carbohydrates. Milk sugar has been shown to enhance calcium absorption, making it an asset to your health. Again, the quantity consumed is going to be the key.

Contrary to what many people believe, carbohydrates are found in the majority of the food groups. They are found in

  • grains,
  • fruits,
  • milk/yogurt, and
  • vegetables.

The following are Dietary Guidelines for carbohydrate consumption:

  • Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
  • Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan.
  • Reduce the incidence of dental caries by practicing good oral hygiene and consuming sugar-and starch-containing foods and beverages less frequently.

The following are Dietary Reference Intakes for carbohydrate consumption:

  • Adults and children should get 45%-65% of their calories from carbohydrates.
  • Added sugars should comprise no more than 25% of total calories consumed. Added sugars are those incorporated into foods and beverages during production which usually provide insignificant amounts of vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients. Major sources include soft drinks, fruit drinks, pastries, candy, and other sweets.
  • The recommended intake for total fiber for adults 50 years and younger is set at 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women, while for men and women over 50 it is 30 and 21 grams per day, respectively, due to decreased food consumption.

The final verdict on carbohydrates is that you absolutely need them as part of your diet. You want your sources to be from vegetables, fresh fruit, whole wheat grains, and dairy products. You want to avoid foods with added sugar. Your calorie consumption will control your weight, and your balance of nutrients will influence your health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/6/2014

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