Carbohydrates are one of 3 macronutrients (nutrients that form a large part of our diet) found in food – the others being fat and protein. Hardly any foods contain only 1 nutrient, and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts.
There are 3 different types of carbohydrates found in food: sugar, starch and fiber.
Sugars – The type of sugars most adults and children in the US eat too much of are called free sugars. These are the ones put in our drinks and candy and foods. Unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, for example, are also counted as free sugars.
Starches – Starch is found in foods that come from plants. Starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
Fibers – Fiber is the name given to the diverse range of compounds found in the cell walls of foods that come from plants. Good sources of fiber include vegetables with skins on, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta, and beans and lentils.
So, why do we need carbohydrates?
Energy for fuel. Carbs are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. The glucose enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin. If we absorb more glucose then what we need, it is converted to glycogen found in the liver and muscles and converted to fat for long-term storage of energy. At the rate I’m going, I have a reserve of about 3 years or more.
Disease Risk. Fiber can promote good bowel health, reduce the risk of constipation, and some forms of fibre have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Research shows diets high in fibre are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.