What Are Carbohydrates?
Low carbohydrate diets have gained a lot of publicity in recent years and
the debate on whether they are good for you or not goes on. But what are carbohydrates or 'carbs'?
Why has the concern over carbohydrate foods risen in recent years? To understand what carbohydrates are and
how they work, you need to know a little basic chemistry first.
The function of carbs in your body is to provide the main source of energy
for the body. Your body either uses the carbohydrates immediately or your body can convert them into fat
to store and use later. Carbohydrates or saccharides are sugars and starches which provide energy for humans and
animals. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple or monosaccharides and complex, or
Simple carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits and dairy and are
more easily digested by the body. Because of the way our food is processed now, they are also often found
in refined foods such as white sugar, pastas and white bread.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, take longer to digest
and are mainly found in vegetables, whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice and legumes. The refining processes
adopted today removes some of the grain's fibre and nutrients. Therefore, eating a bowl of whole grain cereal such
as low carb oatmeal will not only fill you up for longer but give you longer lasting energy than a bowl of sugary
cereal due to the way the body uses and processes the carbohydrates.
Once you have eaten carbs in food, it is the job of the liver to digest carbs by
breaking them down into simple sugars or glucose. This in turn stimulates the production of insulin in the
pancreas. The function of insulin is to convert this sugar into energy by getting it into the body's blood cells.
Simple and complex carbohydrates affect the production of insulin in different ways.
When digesting simple carbohydrates, insulin levels rise faster
and 'spike' faster and the carbs are used up faster for energy. This is why when you eat a sugary sweet or snack to
quickly satisfy hunger or for a quick energy burst, you find that energy levels crash soon after when the sugar
'high' ends. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, this results in a longer lasting period of energy and
importantly less of an insulin reaction in the body.
If the body produces too much glucose, it will be stored in the liver and the
muscle cells as glycogen. This is stored until the body next needs a burst of energy. Any glycogen that isn't
stored in the liver or cells is stored in the body as fat. The body uses the immediate stores of glycogen for short
term energy needs. However, this is where the problem of being over-weight or developing diabetes can occur. If too
much fat is stored and not used as energy, health problems may occur. Only when exercise or workouts are
under-taken will the reserves of fat be used as energy.
The recommended carbohydrate intake for an adult on a daily basis varies from one
organisation to another. The World Health Organisation recommends 55-75% of dietary energy should come from
carbohydrates. Only 10% should come from simple carbs. While the Institute of Medicine recommends
However, no one should have a carb free diet. The body needs a
certain amount of carbs to function properly. If insufficient carbs are consumed it may result in health problems
such as fatigue, poor mental capacity and muscle cramps. Although carbohydrates are an important part of a persons
diet, as a short term measure, the body can produce energy from fat and proteins alone. Hence the rise in very low
carb diets and the consumption of foods low in carbs. It is important to remember that low-carb does not mean
no-carb. Eating the right types of carbs is important if dieting for a healthy weight loss. Low Carb eBooks