In our first of a series of articles on nutrition, we look at the wonderful world of carbs. Learn how they can be helpful in a balanced diet…

What are Carbs?

A carbohydrate is an organic compound which consists of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrate is the ideal source of energy for humans, as it is converted into glucose, a form of sugar, which is transported around the body and used to produce energy. The body can either use glucose immediately or turn excess glucose into glycogen and store it in the liver and muscles for later use. Too much can however be stored in the form of fat.

Correct carbohydrates are an important part of any healthy diet, as they give energy to working muscles, fuel the central nervous system, enable fat metabolism, and prevent protein being used for energy. Although carbohydrate is the preferred source of energy for muscle contraction and biologic work, it is actually the only non-essential macro nutrients required by humans. We can gain all of our energy requirements from other sources such as protein and fats.

The Good Carbs

The types of carbohydrate you include in your diet can make a big difference to your health. There are two types of carbohydrate: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are naturally found in foods such as sweet potatoes, nuts and whole grains. Simple carbohydrates, which are often referred to as sugars, exist naturally in fruit and vegetables and are also found in refined foods such as biscuits, cakes and sweets.

High-fibre nutritious carbohydrates, that are minimally processed, are much more beneficial to your health than simple carbohydrates. Not only do they give a slower and more sustained release of energy than simple carbohydrates, they are proven to be better for long-term health, appetite control and sustaining energy levels. Foods such as certain fruits, sweet potatoes, steel-cut oats, plain yogurt, quinoa and vegetables provide carbohydrates that are less disruptive to your blood sugar levels, and in addition, provide you with fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.

How much is too much?

The amount of carbohydrate you should consume per day varies from person to person, depending on calorie intake and how much exercise you do, your body composition and personal goals.  (The average RDA of carbohydrate for women is 230g and for men is 300g.) Whilst many people believe in the common diet myth that no carbs leads to weight loss and improved health, cutting down on carbs too drastically can have a negative impact on your health. The fibre content in high-carbohydrate foods can help weight control and healthy weight loss. Whole grains, vegetables and certain fruits, in particular, have low energy density levels, which means that they can fill you up on few calories and keep you full for long periods of time.

Consuming carbohydrates in excess is unhealthy. Simple carbohydrates give you a quick boost of energy but the effects are short lived. Simple carbohydrates which are loaded with sugar, such as cakes, desserts and sweets quickly increase blood sugar levels and if the body is repeatedly overloaded with these, Type 2 diabetes can develop. Eating too much simple carbohydrate can also lead to weight gain and tooth decay.

Like any type of food, carbohydrates are good, but in moderation. If you eat the right types of carbohydrate, as part of a sensible balanced diet, the effects on your health can only be positive.

Worried about your daily intake of carbs? Fitness Matters can help you change your lifestyle with a healthy diet plan. Get in touch with our fitness experts today.

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