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Articles Fitness Nutrition

Understanding Carbohydrate Function For Better Health

Understanding carbohydrate function and getting solid fact about this essential dietary need, can lead to better overall fitness and health. Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet, as they have many roles within our bodies.

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Roles of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates:

  • Are the body's main source of energy
  • Are necessary for brain function
  • Help the body's muscles work better
  • Supply the body with essential vitamins and minerals
  • Supply the body with fiber

And, in spite of the numerous low to no carbohydrate diets on the market today, such as the Atkin's Diet, carbohydrates, along with protein, are the most important nutrients to help you lose weight and fat and to help build muscle. Carbohydrates contain approximately 4 calories per gram. Protein contains approximately 4 calories per gram. Fat contains approximately 9 calories per gram.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be broken down into 3 groups:

  1. Complex (starches)
  2. Simple (sugar)
  3. Dietary fiber

The best carbohydrate sources are complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Complex carbohydrates can be found in grain products, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, while simple carbohydrates can be found in enriched or refined products, like white bread, enriched pasta, sweets and candy. Anything that doesn't say whole wheat, but does say enriched, can be considered a simple carbohydrate.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates have a high GI (Glycemic Index) and provide quick energy, but can leave you feeling hungry within a short period of time. This will cause you to overeat. Eating too many high-GI foods can also cause significant spikes in your blood sugar that can increase the risk of such chronic health problems as diabetes and heart disease. If you do chose to eat high-GI foods, try eating fiber or protein with them. This may decrease spikes in blood sugar levels.

Fiber

Dietary fiber can be found in plantsm and it is comprised of various carbohydrate compounds including:

  • cellulose
  • hemicellulose
  • pectin
  • gums
  • lignin

Dietary fiber is not a significant source of energy, but it helps your body maintain a healthy digestive system.

Carbohydrates and Proper Body Functioning

Carbohydrates are essential for proper body functioning. Eliminating carbohydrates can promote malnutrition. Carbohydrates also help to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. If you eliminate carbohydrates, you eliminate all of the protective value that comes with them. In addition, carbohydrates contain large amounts of vitamin B, fiber and antioxidants. When carbohydrates are eliminated from the diet, you end up eliminating fruits, grains and vegetables in favor of protein. If you don't consume the right proteins (chicken, fish, tofu), you could end up consuming too much saturated fat (cheese, heavy cream, peanut butter, bacon). Too much saturated fat can lead to heart disease, and too much protein can be taxing on the kidneys.

According to Dr. Robert Eckel, a chairman of the American Heart Associations nutrition committee, "people gain weight because they eat too many calories, not carbohydrates." And Sara A. Boldec, a nutritionist and lecturer states that, "any diet that eliminates entire food groups or has a time limit is bad for you, and any diet that promises quick results will almost always lead you right back where you started."

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