This week, we turn our focus to carbohydrates (a macronutrient), a topic that has received much focus in recent years, especially in regards to their effect on weight loss. We will cover the sources which provide carbohydrates, the different forms, the functions they provide and where they belong on our Fit Plate.

In their simplest form, carbohydrates provide 4 kcal per gram. Sources include: grains, fruits, vegetables (starchy/non-starchy), dairy and of course, sugars. More specifically, carbohydrates can be found in both simple and complex forms.

Two Forms of Sugar

Simple sugars have a chemical structure composed of one or two sugars (saccharides), typically refined and highly processed with little nutritional value which are digested by the body quickly due to their simple chemical structure. Foods that contain simple carbohydrates include table sugar, products with white flour, honey, milk, yogurt, candy, chocolate, fruit, fruit juice, baked goods, jam/jelly, molasses, soda, most packaged cereals. Although most of these products are quite nutrient-void, some do provide nutritional benefit (fruits, honey, molasses, and dairy), however intake should still be monitored and limited

Complex sugars have a chemical structure made up of three or more sugars, usually linked together to form a chain. Compared to their simple counterparts, they are richer in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also take longer to digest and therefore do not elevate blood sugar levels as quickly. Commonly found in vegetables, beans, and whole-grain products (spinach, yams, broccoli, zucchini, lentils, rice, quinoa, oatmeal) The amount and type recommended depends on one’s health status and lifestyle goals.

There are multiple functions carbohydrates provide to the body:

  • Provide energy and regulation of blood glucose
  • Provide vitamins and minerals
  • Flavor/sweetness in foods we eat
  • Dietary fiber (binder, assists in detoxification)

Glucose, Fructose, and Sucrose

Glucose is found in most carbohydrates and is the body’s preferred source of quick energy. It is used immediately for energy or stored in muscle or the liver as glycogen for later use.

Fructose is a simple sugar in fruit, vegetables, and many sweetened beverages. It is only metabolized by the liver and is actually lipogenic, or fat-producing in the body.

Sucrose is also a simple sugar, often called table sugar. It is made up of glucose and fructose. The body will break apart the sugars and use the glucose in the body for energy and store the fructose as fat if not needed for energy.

How Much Do We Need?

Ideally, you should consume about 40% to 50% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, mostly non starchy? How do we work it into our balanced plate? If we look at our Fit Plate, carbohydrate has its own section.

To recap, carbohydrates are a not a black and white topic. Weight loss cannot be calculated by the number of grams of carbohydrates one consumes. It is more important to focus on the form of carbohydrates you commonly consume and the source from which they are derived from. In other words, whole food is best.