The Real Deal on Carbohydrates

Over the years, we have seen many nutritional fads come and go. From low-fat to low-protein diets, it seems like we are constantly being bombarded with new information. The newest diet trend these days is the low-carb diet. Focusing on eating low amounts of carbohydrates, this type of diet is said to foster weight loss and improve your overall health and wellbeing. But are carbohydrates really bad for you? Should you eliminate all carbs from your daily diet? Here is the real deal when it comes to eating carbohydrates!

What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of your body�s main energy sources. Made up of three main ingredients, including starches, cellulose, and sugars, carbohydrates provide your body with the energy it needs to perform its daily tasks. Carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, including pastas, cereals, vegetables, fruit, processed foods, and soda pop. They make up approximately 65% of our daily diet.

How are Carbohydrates Used?
Carbohydrates function as a fuel source for each and every cell in your body. When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, your body breaks down these carbohydrates and converts them into a simple sugar known as glucose. The production of this glucose stimulates your body to produce a hormone known as insulin, which allows your body to transfer the glucose around your body. Any excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles for future use.

Types of Carbohydrates
There are two main types of carbohydrates:

  • Simple Carbohydrates: Simple carbs are the easiest for your body to break down, providing you with a quick burst of energy after you eat them. They are found in sugar, honey, milk sugar (lactose), white bread, and refined foods (including cakes, pastries, and candy).
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates are made up of long strings of sugar molecules, and include both starches and fibers. They are digested more slowly in your stomach and are commonly found in legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.

Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?

There have been lots of rumors about the effects of carbohydrates on the body. But are they really bad for you?

Carbohydrates and Weight Gain
Recently, carbohydrates have been blamed for causing weight gain when eaten in excessive quantities. And unfortunately, this rumor does seem to be based on fact. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose to help fuel your cells. Excess glucose is stored in your liver and muscles, but these body parts can only store a certain amount of glucose. Remaining glucose is laid down as fat in certain areas of your body. If you continually ingest large amounts of carbohydrates, it is possible to gain weight.

Carbohydrates and Type II Diabetes
Some researchers have also linked excessive carbohydrate intake with an increased risk for type II diabetes. In order to use glucose as fuel, your body needs to produce insulin; therefore, the more glucose your body makes, the more insulin it is required to produce. It appears that some people become overwhelmed by this constant need to supply insulin, and, eventually, become unable to regulate insulin production. This leads to the development of type II diabetes.

Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs: What�s the Difference?
Researchers have now discovered that some carbohydrates appear to be better for you than other carbohydrates. As a result, many diets and health programs now advocate that people focus on eating "good" carbs over "bad" ones. But which carbs are good and which carbs are bad? And why does it matter?

  • Bad Carbohydrates: Bad carbohydrates are the simple carbs found in refined foods, likes cakes, candy, and white bread. These simple carbs are termed "bad" because they contain little nutritional benefit. Additionally, because they are broken down so quickly in the body, they can actually cause you to feel hungrier faster. Many researchers and health care experts blame the rising obesity rates in the United States on the increase in bad carbohydrates in our daily diets.
  • Good Carbohydrates: Good carbohydrates are the complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. These are termed "good" carbohydrates because they offer more nutritional benefit than simple carbohydrates. Unlike simple carbohydrates, complex carbs contain lots of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc to help keep your body healthy. These carbs also take longer to digest in your stomach, helping you to feel fuller for longer periods of time. This means that you are less likely to overindulge on these types of carbs and gain weight.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets: Do They Work?
In order to lose weight quickly, you may be determined to reduce the amount of carbs you are eating, or even go on a low-carb or no-carb diet, like the Atkins diet. While these diets do seem to offer quick weight loss, especially in the initial stages, long-term weight loss seems to be on par with low-fat, regular-carb diets. And because they restrict a natural source of energy, you may find that you are very tired and a little bit crabby while you are on one of these diets.

Most health care providers recommend that men and women focus on consuming good, complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates if they want to lose weight. These will help you to feel fuller longer while providing your body with a good supply of energy.

Additional Tips for Controlling Your Carbohydrate Intake
In addition to switching to complex carbohydrates you can also:

  • Reduce the amount of starchy vegetables and grains that you eat (these contain more carbs that other food products).
  • Pair all of your meals with a salad or light soup - this will help you to feel fuller faster.
  • Increase the amount of vegetables and fruit you are eating - these are lower in carbs than grain products and contain lots of healthy vitamins and nutrients.
  • Focus on fiber-rich foods - these carbs are very filling and help to keep your digestive system in tip-top shape.

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