There are basically three most important food nutrients needed for the proper functioning of the body – the macronutrients. The most essential is considered, by most nutritionists, to be carbohydrate – a molecule comprising of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in varying proportions. The rest of the essential food nutrients are the proteins and fats.
From this article, you will understand the effects of carbohydrates, the sources and categories as well as understand which sources of carbs are good to human health and which ones are not.
Carbs refer to the carbohydrate food nutrient and can be divided into many classes depending on the chemical composition and structure. The amount of useful food nutrients contained in the carbohydrate food we eat can be measured in calories (with its many decimal subdivisions; kilocalories, megacalories, etc.) and should be controlled to avoid adverse health problems and ensure proper and balanced dieting. Carbs requirement in the body do, however, depends on the person.
The major reason why we require carbs in our diet in the first place is for the supply of the energy used in doing work in the body. This required energy is the amount of calories we use up in the body. Energy used in the body can be derived from other sources; in fact most nutritionists believe that proteins and fats contain enough calories as much as carb-rich foods. However, dietary requirements suggests that more than half our energy intake into the body should be derived from carbohydrates.
Categories of Carbs
I think that the basic way to group, biochemically, the numerous classes of carbohydrates we have is to split it into two broad categories:
Simple Carbs – refers to the monosaccharide simple sugar units. This class is made up of very small molecules of a carbon, hydrogen and oxygen compound. Their structure is referred to as the carbohydrate monomer (it is the basic building unit of other bigger carbohydrate molecules). This is where glucose, galactose, ribose and fructose fall into. They are crystalline and generally dissolve in water to give a sweet tasting syrup.
Complex Carbs – when two or more monosaccharide molecules fuse together to make a larger carbohydrate unit, that unit is a complex sugar. There are basically two classes in this group depending on the number of carbohydrate monomer units present in them. While the Disaccharides contain two monosaccharide units in their chain, polysaccharides contain greater number of multiple monomer units (in fact, complex carbohydrate units with few monosaccharide chains are called oligosaccharide).
Enough of the technical terms, a much more simpler and understandable way to classify carbs is to split them into three easily-recognizable groups:
Sugars – when we say sugars, we basically refer to simple carbs and our mind runs to monosaccharide. The same examples of glucose, galactose, fructose and sucrose still apply.
Starches – starch accounts for very long chains of carbohydrate monomer unit where glucose is the basic building block. In a nutshell, if you lay up many single glucose molecules to form long carb chains, what you have produced is a starch.
Fibers – is in fact the food roughages we know. This leads to the knowledge that some people cannot digest this class of carbs. The digestive system of humans can, however, make use of some of the dietary fiber unit to aid digestion and relieve problems of indigestion. These are also complex carbs.
Sources of Dietary Carbs
There are numerous carb-rich foods from which the various categories of dietary carbs can be derived. Generally, foods are usually classified based on the food nutrient they contain in abundance thus giving us an easy way of identifying sources of carbs. The truth is that, potentially, all foods are sources of different forms and amounts of carbs. However, some contain a higher carb concentration than others and we will focus on those foods with consequential amount of carbs.
Starchy Foods – starch-containing foods of all kinds are major sources of raw carbohydrate. In this group of food, we can identify the starchy and mildly starchy vegetables, tubers, roots and fruits (we mean all the kinds of potatoes, yams, cassava root, banana squashes, pumpkin, carrots, beets, etc.); all cereal grains (like wheat, rye, rice, barley, millet, oats, etc.); all legumes (beans, peanuts and peas fall into this class).
Sugary fruits – for the purpose of our article, we can have two basic classes of fruits- the sweet and non-sweet fruits. The non-sweet fruits do contain, per our previous conclusion, small amounts of carbs but, the category of fruits we are referring to is the sweet fruits and due to their sugar content they contain quantifiable amount of carbs. These fruits include: melons, acid fruits (like lemons, grapes and sour chops), subacid fruits (guavas, oranges, etc.) and sweet fruits like mangoes and apples.
Any of these main sources can offer varying amounts of fiber that can be broken down by fiber-acting bacteria into fatty acid and stored to be used by some cells in the body.
Whole Carbs – will refer to the carbohydrate class derived from unrefined grain that is basically unprocessed even though it may be ground. The major point to note is that whole carbs the fiber that is found in the grain naturally.
Refined Carbs – in this class, the fiber has been sifted out. The refined grain powder is then packaged for use. The sieved fiber can be used as an additive in other foods and even drinks. White rice. White pasta white bread, pastries have been refined and therefore contain little, mostly, no fiber.
Low Carb Diets
As the name entails, a low carb diet is one planned in such a way as to permit the consumption of very little or no carb-rich foods. Per this explanation, out goes sugary fruits, refined grains and starchy pasta and bread, in comes unsweetened fruits, mildly starchy vegetables and roots, whole cereal grains and fibre-rich pastries such as the ones made with whole wheat flour. The low carb diets are usually plotted as weight loss strategies.
The alternative to this is the high carb diet. You don’t want to go there! The foods included in this category are certain to cause a lot of health defects that we did not bargain for. Due to the fact that carbs that are not used instantly by the body are converted to fats and fatty acids and are stored in the muscle and skin linings, high carb diets result to obesity and heart defects.
For a well-balanced low carb diet, a complete array of other food nutrients (including the other two macronutrients which, on their own, are reliable sources of the calories needed by the body to do work). This means that we can go ahead and avoid all carb-rich food that we have discussed above, to be on the safe side.
Essentially, a low carb diet plan will take into account a person’s health, how much exercise they get, and in most cases how much weight they have to lose.
Importance/Benefits of Low Carb Diets
- Low carb diets contain little carbs in form of fiber and are rich in calcium and magnesium. This gives it the characteristic ability for improved bone strength and structure, improved circulatory functions, etc.
- The low carb diets discourage the consumption of sugars and starches and are therefore better suited for persons with hypertensive disorder and diabetes.
- It makes sure to provide food nutrients that will give the body its required amount of energy without excessively overloading the body with complex carb molecules to break down therefore relating low carb diet and fiber-rich foods to improved metabolism.
Low Carb Foods
These are the sources of the items on your low carb diet menu. They contain carbohydrates, but in little quantities. They are foods that are low in sugar, low in starch content, rich in fiber, highly rich in fat (especially unsaturated fat) and high in protein content.
Low carb foods include vegetables (all vegetables are good, but on the broader classification of vegetables, it is better to choose mildly starchy vegetables), whole foods (including whole grains and whole fruits like apples, bananas and avocadoes), nuts (these are especially important as they are sources of a lot of other micronutrients and are rich in fibre e.g. almonds, walnuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts), seeds and low starch squashes. A lot of meat and fatty fish can certainly make a difference in your diet.
Essentially, it is easier to build a low carb diet if we structure each meal around a more protein-rich food as substrate instead of carb-rich substrate (even if it is low carb). For instance, on thanksgiving, our dinner is built around the thanksgiving turkey and lots of vegetables. This diet is definitely low carb and safe. Meat and fish contain protein as their major constituent macronutrient and are therefore low carb.
The importance of these low carb foods cannot be overstressed. Below is a few benefits we can derive from low carb foods:
- They make up the much recommended low carb diet and therefore control obesity and regulate blood sugar level.
- We can altogether eliminate very bulky starchy foods from our diets by substituting with the low carb foods.
- With its higher vegetable content, it supplies the body a greater range of vitamins than the carb-rich foods.
- They generally are foods that contain proteins and fats and therefore assist in improving muscle function and tissue repair, per the function of proteins.
Low Carb Snacks
Snacks are generally eaten between meals and is therefore not healthy from start. However, if you get hungry and exhausted from strenuous work and exercise, avoid excessive yawning by indulging yourself in a healthy low carb snack.
Low carb snacks are numerous and it can be very easy to avoid carbs-rich snacks. The general rule is to avoid:
- Pastries made from processed or refined grain flour. Fiber-rich whole grain flours are used to make certain cookies and pastries. These are the low carb snacks we are talking about.
- Sugary refreshments like carbonated soft drinks with sugar and all processed foods with artificial sweeteners like saccharine – these are the worse.
Don’t hesitate to eat, instead, a wedge of healthy fruit, full-fat yoghurt can replace soft drinks when you crave one, one or two hard-boiled eggs will not do any harm.
Low Carb Bread
Bread is an essential food substrate and very difficult to substitute in our diet. However, we do not need to substitute bread. What we need to do is to substitute the kind of grain flour used in baking our bread for a healthier experience.
White bread refers to bread made with refined grains and does not contain any fiber. In fact, it contains, basically, starch which will break down to many molecules of simple glucose returning back to where we have started. An alternative to the popular white bread we have is the whole wheat bread made with whole grain flour of wheat.
Low carb bread can help to further our weight loss plans and keep us generally healthy and free from unmanageable diabetic and hypertensive disorder. It ensures that we don’t complicate the state of our heart health.
In summary, nutritionists draw a distinction between the various sources of dietary carbs by classifying the carbs derived from them as bad carbs (from carb-rich sugary or starchy foods) and good carbs (from low carb protein-rich, fatty or fibre-rich foods and whole foods like grains and fruits).