Carbs have gotten a bad reputation. Diets such as Atkins and South Beach promote easy, rapid weight loss that can be very attractive to someone trying to lose weight. By restricting the amounts of carbohydrate that you eat, these diets claim that you can turn your body into a fat-burning machine. When you limit carbohydrates, however, you deprive your body of a main source of fuel — and many essential nutrients that you need to stay healthy.
Also called “simple sugars,” “sugars,” or “saccharides,” these carbohydrates contain between one and 10 sugar molecules and are present in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Those with one or two sugar molecules are called monosaccharides and disaccharides, respectively, while those containing up to 10 sugar molecules are called oligosaccharides. Complex carbohydrates are made up of polysaccharidesTrusted Source, which are longer, intricate chains of sugar molecules. Complex carbs include both starches and dietary fiber. Starches are the storage carbohydrates in peas and beans, grains, and vegetables, and they provide the body with energy.
Carbohydrates, also called carbs, are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients of nutrition and are classified into three types:
Monosaccharides: The most fundamental type of carbohydrate, which includes glucose and fructose.
Disaccharides: Lactose and sucrose are two monosaccharide molecules that are bonded together to form disaccharides.
Polysaccharides: Polysaccharide chains consist of more than two monosaccharide molecules bonded together, such as fiber and starch.
The primary function of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy since most carbs are broken down or converted into glucose or fat (stored energy), which can be used for energy.
Your body can’t tell the difference between natural or added sugar. Consider this: eating a candy bar provides your body with sugar and not much else. Eating fruit still provides sugar, but it also supplies your body with important fibers and starches.
Added sugars might also be called:
Sucrose (table sugar)
Benefits of Healthy Carbs
With all of this in mind, the benefits of healthy carbs become clear. Because carbs are fuel for your body, a lack of healthy carbs can have negative effects.
Carbohydrates that people may consider unhealthy because they are less nutritious include:
refined carbohydrates, such as polished rice and flour
sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas and juices
highly processed snacks, including cookies and pastries
Here are five quick tips about carb consumption from the Harvard School of Public Health:
1. Start the day with whole grains. Try a hot cereal, like old-fashioned oats, or a cold cereal that has a whole grain topping the ingredients list.
2. Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks.
3. Bag the potatoes. Instead, have brown rice, bulgur, wheat berries, whole wheat pasta or another whole grain with your dinner.
4. Choose whole fruit instead of juice. An orange has twice as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice.
5. Bring on the beans. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as a great source of protein.