There are many vitamins and nutrients in the foods people eat, and one of the three main ways the body obtains energy or calories is through carbohydrates. The sugars, starches, and fibers found in vegetables, grains, fruits and milk products are called carbohydrates and are important to a healthy life. They are macronutrients and are the body's main source of energy.
At the chemical level, carbohydrates contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The other two important macronutrients are protein and fats. Each is vital for proper functioning of the body and large amounts of them are needed. The macronutrients, including the carbohydrates, cannot be produced by the body on its own, but they must be obtained through the foods people eat.
There are two major types of carbohydrates, often referred to as 'carbs', in foods- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are also called simple sugars and can be found in refined sugars such as the white sugar found in sugar bowls. Simple sugars are found in nutritious foods too such as fruit and milk.
Getting carbohydrates from nutritious foods is important because no sugars were added to them. In addition, they contain vitamins, fiber, and important nutrients like calcium. Some foods, like candy bars and other sugary foods, have sugar but do not contain the necessary nutrients for the body.
The second type is called complex carbohydrates and is also called starches. They can be found in grain products such as pasta, bread, crackers, and rice. As with simple sugars, there are better choices of nutritious foods that contain complex carbohydrates. There are refined grains. Such as white flour and white rice, removes nutrients and fiber after being processed.
Unrefined grains contain the vitamins and minerals the body needs for good health, plus they are rich in fiber which helps the digestive system work effectively. When a person eats fiber, it helps the stomach feel full and less overeating occurs. For example, a bowl of oatmeal, which contains fiber, will fill up a person better than some sugary candy, and both have the same number of calories.
Once the carbohydrates enter the body, the body breaks them down into simple sugars and are then absorbed into the bloodstream. The sugar level then rises in the body. Next, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin, which is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells. The sugar is then used as an energy source for the body.
If the process goes too fast, as with the simple sugars, the body will feel hungry again. However, when the process takes longer as with whole-grain foods, the full feeling will be longer. The whole-grain foods will then give the person energy over a long period of time.
Many scientists believe that some foods with a lot of simple sugars make the blood sugar level rise more quickly than others. The foods that cause an increase in the blood sugar level may lead to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Limiting foods with the simple sugars or simple carbohydrates and eating more complex carbohydrates will be healthier for the body. The best foods to eat are vegetables, oatmeal, and whole-grain wheat bread.
Finally, carbohydrates provide fuel for the body, for the central nervous system, and energy for working muscles. They are important for brain function and an influence on mood, memory, etc., as well as a quick energy source. In summary, there are good carbs that are healthy and there are bad carbs, which rarely have any nutritional value.
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