Macronutrients: Carbohydrate

ashleigh geurin blog post nutrition Jan 16, 2024

We know that we have to eat food to survive, but food also provides us with the nutrients our bodies need to maintain regular function, grow and repair tissues, and keep us healthy. Nutrients can be divided into two main categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are required in large amounts in the diet and there are three macronutrients your body needs, one of which is carbohydrate. You may have heard of carbohydrate from the many “low-carb” fad diets on the market, but carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy meaning they are important for fueling our workouts but also maintaining body temperature, brain activity, nerve cells, developing blood cells, and heart contractions. Because they play such an important role in supporting these functions, carbohydrates need to make up about 45%-65% of our daily calorie intake. We do know that not all carbohydrates are equal, and there are some that provide better nutritional value for us than others.

Carbohydrates can be broken into three different categories: sugar, starches, and fiber. Sugar is the simplest form of a carbohydrate and can be naturally found in many fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. However, there are many foods that have sugar that has been added to it, such as candy, pastries, and sugar-sweetened beverages. While your body can’t differentiate between natural v. added sugar (it treats all sugar the same), foods containing natural sugar have the added benefit of contributing important vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Since sugar is our “simple” carbohydrate, fiber and starches are considered more “complex”, meaning that the body takes it longer to digest and that it will not cause a blood sugar spike. Fiber and starch occur naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas. Diets that are rich in fiber may be associated with decreased risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as protection against obesity, colon and rectal cancers, type 2 diabetes, and provide support for digestive health.  

When you think about carbohydrate-containing foods, bread may be the first thing that comes to mind. While grains, such as breads, cereals, rice, crackers, etc are great sources of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and fat- free or low-fat dairy foods can all contribute to your overall daily intake, and can provide lots of important other nutrients at the same time! The important thing is to make sure you have variety in your diet so that you are consuming meals and foods that are nutrient-dense.  

 

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