Understanding Carbohydrates: How do they work, and why do we need them?

Understanding Carbohydrates: How do they work, and why do we need them?My body is the type that happens to look better when I omit carbs. When I walk by a loaf of bread, I gain a pound.

You can always tell when I’m having a “no carb” day though because I’m on edge! I might physically look better, but on the inside I’m a crabby, lightheaded, jittery mess!

This sent me on the hunt for the proper balance of carbohydrates that will keep me slim, yet functioning happily.

But first, I had to understand…

What are carbohydrates and how do they work?

Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient that we consume in a variety of different products.

There are three different types of carbs; Fiber (the good stuff that keeps feeling fuller and takes longer to digest), Starch (my booty is not a fan of this kind) and Sugar.

Now, there are three main types of sugar, too: Fructose – from fruit; Sucrose – a.k.a. table sugar (my booty isn’t a fan here, either!); and lactose – from milk.

Often times carbs occur naturally, like in our grains, milk, nuts, seeds, legumes, veggies and fruit. Other carbohydrates are added to our food and beverages in the forms of starch and sugar by food manufactures.

Our bodies use carbohydrates as its main energy source. When we digest high amounts of carbs, our bodies turn most of it into glucose (sugar). Our bloodstream transports the glucose throughout our bodies.

When our body detects a rise in our blood sugar (glucose) levels, then our pancreas starts to produce the hormone insulin to help moderate the glucose level. The insulin absorbs the glucose and transports it out of our blood stream. The glucose is then either used as energy or is stored, either as fat or as glycogen in your muscles.

It’s important to note that our bodies can only store half a day’s worth of glucose.

What are “net carbs” and what is a “glycemic index”?

The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate these two terms, so there’s no proper definition for them. But here is what most diet plans and doctors mean when they refer to them.

Carbohydrates that are not absorbed into our blood stream are fiber and sugar alcohol (Splenda is an example of a sugar alcohol). When figuring out products “net carbs” you would subtract the fiber and sugar alcohol from the total carb amount. This remaining number is your “net carb”, giving you an idea of the number of carbs that would increase your blood sugar level.

The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise your blood sugar level. A GI value of 55 and below is low, 56 to 69 is medium and 70 and above is high. The health benefits of a low GI diet include weight loss, maintaining weight, prevention of cardiovascular disease and prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Most (but not all) naturally occurring carbs are on the low glycemic index side. Higher GI produce you might consider avoiding while dieting include: potatoes, parsinps, pumpkin, watermelons, and dates.

Any questions or anything to add, class? Share with us in the comments below!

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