Facets of Carbohydrates
Eat carbohydrates! Stay away from carbohydrates! Dance around carbohydrates! It seems like every time your turn around there is a different view on carbohydrates. It is important to remember that carbohydrates, themselves, are not the enemy. It is all about balance and making the right choices when picking your carb sources. Carbohydrates provide 4 kcal (calories) per gram and can be found in a variety of sources: grains, fruits, vegetables (starchy/non-starchy), dairy and sugars. There are two forms of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates have a chemical structure that is composed of 1 or 2 individual sugars. They are typically refined and highly processed with little nutritional value. Complex carbohydrates have a chemical structure that is composed of 3 or more individual sugars, usually linked together to form a chain. They are generally richer in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Functions of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are involved in a long list of functions throughout the body:
– They provide energy and are involved in the regulation of blood sugar.
– Food sources of complex carbs provide essential vitamins and minerals.
– Provides the backbone to creating stored energy.
– Complex carbs are a source of dietary fiber, which is a binder and aids in detoxification, digestion and more.
– Aids in a healthy digestive and immune system by providing a food source for important microbiota in the gut.
This makes getting adequate amounts extremely important.
Carbohydrates are essential to living a healthy and energetic life! But it is important to know how much is right and what are the best sources to choose. Carbohydrates should make up approximately 40% to 55% of your daily calories; most of that coming from complex carbohydrate sources. For an individual participating in moderate exercise for approximately 1 hour, they can expect to need 2.5-3.0 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Also, making sure your carbohydrate intake is spread out throughout the day. Carbohydrates should be included in all 3 meals during the day and at least 1 snack and at meal times, the carbohydrates should make up about ¼ of your plate. A good way to estimate a serving size is by using a 1 cup measuring cup or making it about the size of your fist; use half this for snacks. Eating carbohydrates throughout the day will help ensure that your body is properly nourished and therefore reducing the cravings for sweet or salty things that often present themselves later in the day.
– If you are not getting enough complex carbohydrates:
o Try switching one of your normal simple carbohydrate foods for its complex carbohydrate counterpart.
• Ex: Whole grain bread instead of white bread
• Ex: Whole wheat pasta for regular white pasta
• Ex: Brown or wild rice for white rice
– If you eat some complex carbohydrates:
o Try a new complex carbohydrate source or try cooking or using one a different way.
o Focus on spreading your carbohydrates out throughout the day.
• Make sure each meal throughout the day has a complex carbohydrate source.
– If your carb intake is already mostly complex and is spread out:
o Track your carbohydrate intake throughout the day for at least 3 days. Making note of both simple and complex carbs.
o Note how many calories on average are coming from carbohydrates.
• Does this fall into the 40-55% range?
• Are most of the carbs calories coming from complex carbohydrates?
• Are you fueling your physical activity properly?
Alea Lester, RD
Need more information on your carbohydrate intake? Contact Alea HERE.