Nutrition Basics: Carbohydrates


The role of carbohydrates is to provide energy, as they are the body’s main source of fuel, needed for physical activity, brain function and operation of the organs.

The foods you eat contain different types of carbohydrates. Some kinds are better for you than others. The different types of carbohydrates are:

• Sugars are found naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Foods such as cakes and cookies have had sugar added. Table sugar also is an added sugar. All of these sugars can be converted in your body to glucose, or blood sugar. Your cells “burn” glucose for energy.
• Starches are broken down in your body into sugars. Starches are found in certain vegetables, such as potatoes, beans, peas, and corn. They are also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
• Dietary fibers are carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. They pass through your body without being broken down into sugars. Even though your body does not get energy from fiber, you still need fiber to stay healthy. Fiber helps get rid of excess fats in the intestine, which helps prevent heart disease. Fiber also helps push food through the intestines, which helps prevent constipation. Foods high in fiber include fruit, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole-grain foods (such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice).

In general, you want to limit carbohydrates that increase your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose stays high for too long, you can develop type 2 diabetes. To keep your blood glucose in check, limit the amount of table sugar you eat. Also, limit foods with added sugars. You can tell if a food has added sugars by looking at the ingredients list on the package. Look for terms such as:

• Corn sweetener
• Corn syrup
• High-fructose corn syrup
• Dextrose
• Fructose
• Glucose
• Lactose
• Maltose
• Sucrose
• Honey
• Sugar
• Brown sugar
• Invert sugar
• Molasses
• Malt syrup
• Syrup

Healthy carbohydrates include:

• Natural sugars in fruits, vegetables
• Dietary fiber
• Starches in whole-grain foods, beans, peas, and corn