Starches, sugars – the sweet tasting carbohydrates – and fiber define the three types of carbohydrates, yet within each of those groups. there are divisions. Basically, this nutritional food group is for energy, quick energy and long lasting energy and its food sources are chocked full of vitamins and minerals and work in harmony with proteins and fats. Each contributes to the overall well being and maintenance of the whole body and none work independently of the other.
Carbohydrates are not equal in sweetness, in nutritional value, nor in their overall purpose. They are an important food source but are best when supplied in fruits and vegetables and not in additions of table sugar. This is an empty sugar that supplies only calories and a little flavor and adds nothing of value to the diet.
Starches are derived from green plants and are used for foods as well as for many non-food purposes. They have a sticky gluey quality that renders them useful as fillers and additives for many manufacturing purposes. Foods in this group are peas, corn, beans and potatoes, grains such as barley and oats, wheat and rye. Grains are further subdivided into enriched or whole grain.
Enriched means the outer layers of the wheat germ has been removed and the refined portion remaining is the endosperm, the inner most layer of the three layered grain. The outside consists of the bran; the next layer consists of the nutrients such as fatty acids and vitamins. So you see when these layers are removed much of the nutritional value has been also removed.
Carbohydrates are also divided into simple fast acting sugars and longer acting sugars. Table sugar – sucrose – is the simple sugar that acts quickly and energizes but is soon depleted leaving one tired and hungry and leaving the whole digestive process out of order. A little bit is useful since it makes foods palatable and edible but too much can be detrimental to the body. This is happens when the body is unable to process sugar effectively; resulting in diabetes or pre-diabetes.
An adequate diet contains the longer acting carbohydrates such as potatoes and grains and fruits that have slower actions and thus can sustain a body’s energy requirements over longer periods. The often maligned potato is a useful part of the daily diet and when alternated with rice as an alternative, can keep a person feeling full and not hungry for longer periods of time. Fruits instead of candy or cake or pastries as desserts fulfill the purpose of sweets and do not have the let down quality of the quick acting sugars.
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap mainly because of their association with fats. While it is true that chips with their saltiness and their fatty taste appeal to the taste buds more than baked or whipped potatoes, but nutritionally speaking, they can also wreck a diet. Another good source of carbohydrates is sweet potatoes instead of the usual potatoes. Careful here too. Casseroles are great for special occasions but as daily fare they are healthier when baked. An added bonus is their antioxidant qualities.
Sugars come in several varieties. They can be recognized by the suffix ose. Sucrose is another name from table sugar, fructose is the sugar in fruits, and lactose is the sugar in milk. Glucose is a monosaccharide derived from the metabolism of sugar. Often Dextrose is the word used in its place, but essentially the two words are the some. Most of us know this sugar as the one hanging from an IV pole in a hospital room. It is liquid food for those unable to get nourishment by eating regular meals. Lactose and Maltose mean essentially the same and another name for fructose is levulose.
Fiber, a plant food source, is another reason carbohydrates are nutritionally healthy. It adds bulk to the diet and keeps us form overeating by the added dimension of fullness. In itself it adds no nutritional value but acts as a janitor in that it helps keep the intestinal tract clean and functioning normally. Regularity is its main priority. It too has its own divisions such as soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
The best sources of this indigestible carbohydrate are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. The daily requirements are from twenty-five to thirty grams. An added bonus form getting an ample supply of fiber, in addition to its fullness factor, and its regularity claim is its cholesterol lowering ability.
Therefore, don’t snub your nose at carbohydrates and gorge on proteins and fats. There are good reasons that five or six servings of carbohydrates are daily recommended by health sources. They are the movers and the shakers of digestion and good nutrition. Without them, what would proteins and fats do? I am of the opinion there would be, in addition to obesity, more kidney problems. Proteins are not only harder to digest; they require more work by the kidneys and other organs than do carbohydrates. Fats, of course, speak for themselves. If they don’t get utilized immediately, they get stored in the body.