What are carbohydrates and how do we use them?

The name carbohydrate is derived from the elements that make up its molecular structure: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (ate). Carbohydrates are macronutrients that provide the body with four calories per gram. Starch, sugar, and fiber are the most common carbohydrates found in food.

Carbs can be divided into two categories: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are high-sugar foods that are quickly metabolized by the body. They are generally found in processed foods like soda, candy, syrups, and white bread. While simple carbohydrates provide quick energy, this energy is usually short-lived. Foods high in simple carbohydrates typically lack quality nutrients and are therefore often considered empty calories.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are high in starches or fiber, and they generally take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates. They provide the body with more sustained energy, and they can improve weight control, blood cholesterol levels, and blood sugar regulation. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Track Carbs with MyFoodDiary

How much should I eat?

According to the USDA's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should account for 45-65% of your calories.1 For a person consuming 2,000 calories per day, this equates to roughly 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates.

The quantity of carbohydrates in your diet is less important than the quality.2 Seek out complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and avoid simple carbohydrates (such as soda, candy, white bread, and added sugars). In order to reduce your risk for heart disease and diabetes, you should also seek out foods with a low Glycemic Index (GI).

Are your carbs coming from healthy sources? Keep a food diary and find out. Track carbs, fiber, and sugar.

Which foods are high in carbs?

While most foods contain carbohydrates, the primary sources of carbs in Western diets are pasta, bread, rice, milk, potatoes, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, cereals, and sugar added by manufacturers.

Additional Resources

  1. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  2. The Nutrition Source: Carbohydrates. Harvard School of Public Health.

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