What’s a Carbohydrate?
What’s in your food? What’s a carbohydrate? Are they all bad? Can I eat fruit or is that a bad carbohydrate too? What about oatmeal? My doctor told me to eat oatmeal to lower my cholesterol. Don’t eat carbs. Load up on carbs. What’s a healthy diet really? Fuel Up with Healthy Carbohydrates as PART of your healthy life program. You need some!
It’s funny how militant people can get about food. I recall a heated debate about carbohydrates during what was supposed to be a private yoga session. The yoga instructor was adamant. He barked: “All carbs must be eliminated.” I said: What about fruits and vegetables? He yelled: “They are not carbs! They are micronutrients!” To which I said softly: Sure they are and they are also carbohydrates. I offered science-based nutritional information, but he would not hear me. Fourty minutes into my private session, he was still arguing about carbs. I rolled up my yoga mat and left. This was not yoga. As I left, I said: “I’m sad that you choose not to consider my expertise on this matter.”
I’m not a dietician, exactly. But some things don’t change whether you are studying culinary foods, menu planning, or diet and nutrition. I’ve studied them all professionally over the course of 40 years.
Look: Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Carbs are energy. Cyclists often go for simpler sugars when riding short bursts, but eat complex carbs for endurance rides. What that means: If you are a sprinter, you need fast energy to fuel your sprint. If you go for longer endurance quests, you need a steady release of energy from your foods.
In essence, a carb is a chemical in the foods you eat that breaks down into sugars. We have complex carbs – foods that break down slowly, have lot’s more fiber, and the sugars are released into the blood slowly. We have simple carbs – those high sugar, quick burning foods that we love for the ‘sugar fix’.
Carbohydrates are important to a healthy life. They are the bodies main source of energy. There are three macronutrient food groups: Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. All food breaks down into one of these. As I told my yoga teacher, not all carbohydrates burn at the same rate, but all vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates whether you eat them raw or cooked, or whether you juice them. It’s basic science.
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. They also prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism. Carbohydrates are important for healthy brain function. They influence mood and memory, and provide a quick energy source. In fact, the RDA of carbohydrates is based on what the brain needs to function.
Simple vs. complex carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex, Smathers said. The difference between the two forms is the chemical structure and how quickly the sugar is absorbed and digested. Generally speaking, simple carbs are digested and absorbed more quickly and easily than complex carbs, according to the NIH.
Check Your Resources: The Yoga guy may know yoga, but he doesn’t know the basics on science-based nutrition.
Go to the source!
The National Institute on Health provides a wealth of accurate information including a generic page on Carbs in their Medicine Plus public page. Medicine Plus is actually a great resource for getting the facts on all kinds of medical information — helping you sift through the trends to find the current science-based information.