Carbohydrates are sugar compounds that are bonded with carbon and water, thus the name. There are many carbohydrates in nature; however, there are only three monosaccharides that can be used by our bodies. Glucose, fructose, and galactose.
Glucose is the most dominant monosaccharide that is found in other carbohydrates. Fructose, which is the sweetest of all monosaccharides, can be found primarily in fruits. Galactose is usually combined with glucose to form lactose. Lactose is a disaccharide found in milk and other dairy products. Disaccharides are important because monosaccharides are rarely found by themselves. Instead, they are often paired like, lactose, to form disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.
First, our bodies, digest the food and break it down to its most basic form, which is glucose. Second, the small intestines will then absorb the glucose from our food and transfer the simple sugars to our cells via the insulin hormone. A spike in glucose levels will happen throughout this transfer. Lastly, digested carbohydrates that have not been used for energy immediately are transferred to the liver and muscles where it is stored as glycogen. Glycogen is the storage form of sugars that are found in meats and starchy vegetables. The liver can hold 90 grams of glycogen while the muscles can hold a minimum of 150 grams. Based on the individuals training habits, glycogen stores can be higher.
Complex and Simple Carbs
Complex carbs are longer chains of glucose. Shorter chains are known as simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, which leads to a sustained release of sugar over time. The sustained release of sugar leads to more favorable glucose levels. Overall this information indicates that there are a time and place for simple and complex carbs. For instance, is the individual finishing a workout, or is the individual driving in the car for the next three hours?
The glycemic index (GI) is more critical than the categorization of carbs. GI ranks carbohydrates based on their blood glucose response. Foods that are high on the GI are broken down by the body quickly, which leads to a more significant spike in glucose levels. Lower GI foods are broken down more slowly and lead to a smaller glucose increase. Individuals who are expecting to be physically active in the next hour can eat foods that are higher on the GI, but individuals who will be stationary should choose foods lower on the GI.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that promotes digestive health. Fiber polysaccharides (long chains of simple sugars) are found in starchy vegetables. These polysaccharides include: cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, gums, and pectin are indigestible carbs. These fiber carbohydrates pass through the body because humans do not possess the enzymes needed to break them down. Fiber is classified into two categories: dietary fiber and functional fiber.
Dietary fiber is consumed from plant foods, while functional fiber is consumed in the diet from isolated fibers that have been added to the foods. Together these two types of fiber create total-fiber.
High-viscosity fibers, or soluble fiber, include gums (oats, legumes, barley, and guar), pectin (apples, citrus fruits, strawberries, and carrots), and psyllium seeds. These types of fibers slow the passage of food from the stomach to the intestines creating a full feeling. This late entry into the intestines slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Low- viscosity fibers, or insoluble fibers, increase the fecal bulk and provide a laxative effect.
Fruits are generally low in fat, calories, and sodium. They also contain no cholesterol. Fruits contain many essential nutrients like potassium, folate, vitamin C, and fiber. People need to consume these nutrients through their diet since their bodies can’t produce them. Fruits are also high in carbohydrates. Too many carbs will lead to extra body fat, and this is not beneficial to most individual’s health goals.
Grains are any food that is made from wheat, rice, oats, oatmeal, barley, or any other cereal grain. Grains are categorized into two categories: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel which consists of bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have been milled, which is a process that removes the bran and germ. This process gives the grain a finer texture and improves its shelf life. Milled grains have been stripped of dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Many refined grains are “enriched,” which means they will have some of their b vitamins added back after processing.
Food from meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, processed soy, nuts, and seeds are part of the protein group. The consumption of seafood is highly encouraged. Seafood contains a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Smaller amounts of seafood are recommended for young children. With that said protein can be high in fat, especially saturated fat. Make sure to always choose leaner cuts of meat and strain grease and fat from ground beef and turkey when possible.
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Try and make all dairy choices from non-fat or low-fat selections. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of this group. Lactose intolerant individuals should be sure to pick lactose- free options when available. Limit the consumption of cheese because of the levels of saturated fat.
Vegetables are the most undervalued food group. Vegetables are low in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol, the same as fruits. Feel free to over-due it on your vegetable intake, except the starchy ones, like white potatoes. Vegetables are categorized into five sub-categories: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.
*Beans and Peas- Beans and peas are an excellent source of plant protein. They have protein levels comparable to meat-based foods. Peas and beans are high in dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate and potassium. Green peas, green beans, and lima beans are not listed in this category; green peas and green lima beans are similar to starchy vegetables and are grouped with them. Green beans are grouped with other vegetables such as onions, lettuce, celery, and cabbage because their nutrient content is similar to those foods.
Even though oils are not considered a food group, oils do provide a significant amount of nutrition. Oils come from many sources that include: vegetable, canola, and olive. Oils are high in mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats while being low in saturated fats. Similar to cheese, oils are ok in moderation. The big take away from this section should be to consume more poly/mono-unsaturated fats. These are the good fats that your heart wants.