Understanding Carbohydrates

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UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020

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There is often a negative stigma attached to carbohydrates. In fact, many fad diets advocate cutting carbohydrates out of your diet completely. Despite their bad rap, carbohydrates are vital to your health for a number of reasons, some of which are provided below.

Provide Energy

Your body uses carbohydrates as its main fuel source. Sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion. They’re then absorbed into your bloodstream, where they’re known as blood sugar, or glucose. From there, the glucose enters your body’s cells with the help of insulin. Some of this glucose is used by your body for energy, fueling all of your activities, whether it’s going for a jog or simply breathing. Extra glucose is stored in your liver, muscles and other cells for later use or is converted to fat.

Control Weight

Evidence shows that eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help you control your weight. Their bulk and fiber content aids weight control by helping you feel full on fewer calories. Contrary to what some weight-loss diets claim, very few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbohydrates leads to weight gain or obesity.

Fight Disease

Some evidence shows that whole grains, and dietary fiber from whole foods helps reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Fiber may also protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is also essential for optimal digestive health.

Choose Wisely

Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet and provide many essential nutrients. Still, not all carbs are created equal. There are two basic types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are composed of one or two sugar units which are broken down and digested quickly. Complex carbohydrates, or starch, are made up of many sugar units, making them structurally more complex and digested more slowly. Complex carbohydrate foods have been shown to enter the bloodstream gradually and trigger only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which stabilizes appetite and results in fewer carbohydrates that are stored as fat. Below are some tips to make healthy carbs work in a balanced diet.

  • Choose fiber-rich vegetables, fruits and beans have many important functions for the body and are necessary for good health. Aim for whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar. They’re better options than are fruit juices and dried fruits, which are concentrated sources of natural sugar and therefore have more calories. Also, whole fruits and vegetables add fiber, water, and bulk and help you feel fuller on fewer calories.
  • Choose whole grains when you can. All types of grains are good sources of carbohydrates. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals and naturally low in fat. But whole grains are healthier choices than are refined grains.  Refined grains go through a process that strips out certain parts of the grain and some of the nutrients and fiber.
  • Be sure to eat plenty of legumes or, beans and lentils. Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol and are high in potassium, iron, and magnesium. They also have beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber. And because they’re a good source of protein, legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Avoid added sugars. Sugar isn’t terribly harmful in small amounts, but there’s no health advantage to consuming it and too much added sugar could lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition, and weight gain.

You don’t need to cut out carbohydrates entirely, just choose them wisely. Limit foods with added sugars and refined grains, such as sugary drinks, desserts, and candy, which are packed with calories but low in nutrition. Instead, go for whole grains and fruits and vegetables. After all, a healthier you means longer life and a lower term life insurance premium.

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