2.1.1. Carbohydrates

carbohydratesCarbohydrates may be classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides depending on the number of monomer (sugar) units they contain. They constitute a large part of foods such as rice, noodles, bread, and othergrain-based products. Monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides contain one, two, and three or more sugar units, respectively. Polysaccharides are often referred to as complex carbohydrates because they are typically long, multiple branched chains of sugar units.

Traditionally, simple carbohydrates were believed to be absorbed quickly, and therefore to raise blood-glucose levels more rapidly than complex carbohydrates. This, however, is not accurate. Some simple carbohydrates (e.g. fructose) follow different metabolic pathways (e.g. fructolysis) which result in only a partial catabolism to glucose, while many complex carbohydrates may be digested at essentially the same rate as simple carbohydrates. Glucose stimulates the production of insulin through food entering the bloodstream, which is grasped by the beta cells in the pancreas.

Carbohydrates are required by us since they are a primary source of energy for our bodies. There are three major types of carbohydrates (in nutrition) – simple, complex or starch, and dietary fibers (both soluble and insoluble). Simple carbohydrates are found in milk, fruits and refined sugar, while complex carbohydrates or starch can be found in grains or cereals and root vegetables. A high intake of complex carbohydrates offers several health benefits. It is desirable that a healthy diet contain plenty of starchy foods. Unrefined carbohydrates such as brown rice or whole-grain foods are the most beneficial for health, as they are rich sources of vitamin B and essential dietary fibers.

Benefits of High Carbohydrate Foods

High carb foods are known to offer a number of health benefits. This is especially true for complex carbohydrate foods that contain high amounts of soluble and insoluble fibers and resistant starches. Here are some major benefits that can be derived from foods high in carbohydrates:

  • Resistant starches and insoluble fiber that are naturally found in foods such as green bananas, navy beans and whole-grain bread are beneficial for colon health. They also ensure regular bowel movements and, thus, prevent constipation.
  • They also contribute towards lowering blood cholesterol levels and cutting down excess body weight.
  • High carbohydrate foods act as the body’s fuel, improve muscle contractions and aid in several physiological functions.
  • They make you feel energetic and strong by either elevating blood glucose levels or preventing them from dropping dangerously.
  • An adequate carbohydrate intake can help reduce problems in the functioning of the central nervous system.
  • Complex carbohydrates are high-fiber foods, which help improve digestion, stabilize blood sugar and maintain energy levels.

Foods containing simple carbohydrates include table sugar, candy, cake, corn syrup, fruit juice, bread and pasta made from white flour and most packaged cereals and are, as such, some of the major high carb foods to avoid. This is so because simple carbs do nothing for the body other than introduce blank calories. These blank calories only give you a short burst of energy for a short period of time and over-consumption leads to weight gain, tooth decay and many other health problems. On the other hand, complex carbs release more energy for a longer duration and have an important role to play in the body’s metabolism, digestion, muscular and central nervous system activities. High carbohydrate foods provide adequate nutrition along with vitamins, minerals and fibers that are essential for physical fitness and overall health. So include as many of these as you can in your daily diet and have a regular exercise regime to stay fit and healthy.

Fiber-First2Fiber

The Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate (or a polysaccharide) that is incompletely absorbed in humans and in some animals. Like all carbohydrates, when it is metabolized it can produce four Calories (kilocalories) of energy per gram. However, in most circumstances it accounts for less than that because of its limited absorption and digestibility. Dietary fiber consists mainly of cellulose, a large carbohydrate polymer that is indigestible because humans do not have the required enzymes to disassemble it. There are two subcategories: soluble and insoluble fiber. Whole grains, fruits (especially plums, prunes, and figs), and vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber. There are many health benefits of a high-fiber diet. Dietary fiber helps reduce the chance of gastrointestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhea by increasing the weight and size of stool and softening it. Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat flour, nuts and vegetables, especially stimulates peristalsis – the rhythmic muscular contractions of the intestines which move digesta along the digestive tract. Soluble fiber, found in oats, peas, beans, and many fruits, dissolves in water in the intestinal tract to produce a gel which slows the movement of food through the intestines. This may help lower blood glucose levels because it can slow the absorption of sugar. Additionally, fiber, perhaps especially that from whole grains, is thought to possibly help lessen insulin spikes, and therefore reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The link between increased fiber consumption and a decreased risk of colorectal cancer is still uncertain.

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