Carbohydrates Why Do We Need Them?

Carbohydrates Why Do We Need Them?

Most people if asked “what are carbohydrates?” would have a pretty fair idea that they include potatoes, rice, pasta etc. In order to understand more about carbs we need to look a bit further.

Carbohydrates are one of the three macro nutrients our bodies need in large quantities (the other two being Fats and Protein) Broadly they cover the following nutrients:

Sugars, whether natural (fructose from fruit, lactose from milk etc) or refined

Starches, rice, potatoes, beans and pulses, pasta, bread

Dietary Fibre

We need carbohydrates as the largest proportion of our diet as they important for the following reasons:

They help with the correct function of our muscles

They are our bodies main source of energy

They provide glucose to our central nervous system, brain and kidneys to help them function correctly

What are Complex and Simple Carbohydrates then?

Again most people would have an idea that there are two different classes of carbs, but what are they exactly? There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. We will treat fibre as a separate issue at the end of this article.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple Carbohydrates are basically simple sugars, generally speaking these are refined sugars although not always. They contain fewer essential vitamins and minerals. Instant energy can be gained when we eat them as they are digested quickly and the sugars rapidly absorbed by the bloodstream. You will find these in some fruits and vegetables, fruit juice, yoghurt, honey, cakes, biscuits and chocolate bars amongst other things.

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The problem with the rapid absorption and instant energy (you may even get a sugar rush) is that the resulting sugar drop is equally rapid and will make you look for another “hit” soon after the first one. This causes one of the main reasons for weight gain, unhealthy snacking.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, cereals, legumes, pasta and wholegrain breads. Complex carbs are digested much more slowly as they are essentially a number of simple carbohydrates bound together. The resulting slower release of energy will keep you feeling full for longer and prevent the blood sugar dips we spoke about earlier.

OK so what do You Suggest we do to Keep Hunger at Bay?

A couple of quick and easy tips could be:

It makes sense to look for the wholemeal version of pasta, rice and bread as you will get extra fibre and a slower, more sustained release of energy

Try to avoid or at least cut down on sweets and food like ready made cakes and biscuits with high refined sugar levels (look on the labels)

What about Fibre?

Fibre or roughage is also a complex carbohydrate, the difference being that it cannot be digested by the body, and therefore has to pass through our bodies basically intact. “What is the Point of that then”? I hear you say. I know it seems perverse doesn’t it? A food that passes straight through us without actually feeding us, however there are other benefits. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble.

Soluble Fibre- absorbs water and swells in the stomach, it is known to help regulate blood sugar levels and to regulate cholesterol. It also helps you feel full

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Insoluble fibre- this passes through almost intact helping to remove toxins and wastes on the way.

We need both types in our daily diet for ideal health. We can get fibre from fruit and vegatables (especially unpeeled), nuts and seeds, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta etc.

A good tip

You can get plenty of both soluble and insoluble fibre from your diet. Look out for:

Wholegrain products

Fresh Fruit and vegetables

Maybe even a good quality supplement (make sure it has both types of fibre)