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Healthy Carbohydrates

The ideal fuel for our bodies is carbohydrate. In fact, our brains and nervous systems depend on it. Carbohydrate comes from sun's energy which is captured by plants through the process of photosynthesis and packaged into various plant foods.

What are healthy carbohydrates?

Healthy carbohydrates include whole grains, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. These foods contain natural sugars, plus they have fiber. Fiber rich food helps curb your appetite, plus they slow the rate at which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream.


Healthy Sources of Carbohydrates

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Some sugars or sweet foods can serve as sources of carbohydrates. Candies, desserts, jellies and regular sodas contain carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars but are otherwise void of nutrient value. These foods complement other foods to make meals and snacks more flavorful and enjoyable. Sweets and sodas do not need to be permanently excluded from the diet but should be used sparingly. Diet sodas, desserts and snacks replace sugar with artificial sweeteners thus providing the minimal or no carbohydrates.

Diet foods can be incorporated into a healthy diet, but should also be used sparingly to make room for carbohydrates rich and nutrient dense foods. Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in foods. Plants are the primary sources of carbohydrates, with the exception of milk, which contains a sugar called lactose. The muscles from animals can also contain some carbohydrate in the form of glycogen but much of this is converted to a substance called lactic acid.

List of Healthy Carbohydrates

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Fruits and vegetables are health carbohydrates full of many nutrients and antioxidants, therefore, we encourage them in our optimal diet. But grains, breads, pasta, bagels, cookies, cake, candy and chips are all examples of nutrient poor carbohydrates that we will discourage in our optimal diet.

Man-made carbohydrates on the other hand come from grains that undergo processing which removes most of their natural fiber and nutrients, making them easily digestible and rapidly assimilated by our bodies. These carbohydrates have very high glycemic indexes and they maintain sugar into our blood stream, pushing blood sugars and insulin levels causing subsequent huge drops in blood sugars.

Serving size Carbohydrate grams
Carbohydrate choices
(Rounded to nearest half)

Peas, green 1 / 2 cup 12 1
Bread (whole grain) 1 slice 13 1
Apple, orange or pear 1 medium 15 1
Bagel, small (3-inch diameter) 1 bagel 30 2
Pasta (macaroni, spaghetti) cooked 1 cup (5 dry ounces) 37 2.5
Potato, baked or boiled 1 medium (5 ounces with skin) 51 3.5
Bagel, large (4 1/2-inch diameter) 1 bagel 60 4

Importance of Carbohydrates

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Carbohydrates are the most abundant bio molecules found in living organisms. The role of carbohydrates in living cells are a fuel storage elements and structural components. In addition, carbohydrates encode molecular recognition information. Carbohydrate presented on the cell surfaces are covalently attached either to proteins or lipids to form glyco-proteins.

Receptors presented on other cell surfaces recognize specific carbohydrate moieties on the glyco conjugates. These carbohydrate-receptor interaction are involved in a wide range of biological processes including inter cellular adhesion, microbial attachment and signal transduction.

Carbohydrates fall in two categories:
  1. Simple carbohydrates, which contain refined sugar, with minimal fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  2. Complex carbohydrates, which contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals.

All carbohydrates are broken down and used for energy. The goals when choosing carbohydrates is to choose complex carbohydrates that increase energy storage at a slow steady pace, to help control blood sugar levels. Sugars are broken down most easily and cause a quick infusion of glucose into your blood. This surge gives an immediate boost of energy, but it also causes blood sugar to drop rapidly and can leave you feeling weak.

Glycemic Index

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The various carbohydrate sources differ in the degree to which they raise the blood glucose. This difference is called the glycemic index(GI) and it refers to glucose-raising power of a food compared with white bread.

In general, choose foods with a lower glycemic index in order to keep the rise in blood glucose to a minimum. Predicting the glycemic index of a mixed meal is nearly impossible, but you can make some simple substitutions to lower the glycemic index of your diet.

Simple Diet substituent to lower GI
High GI foods Low GI foods
Whole meal or white bread Whole-grain bread
Processes breakfast cereal Unrefined cereals like oats or
processed low-GI cereals
Plain cookies and crackers Cookies made with dried fruits
or whole grains like oats
Cakes and muffins Cakes and muffins made with fruits,
oats and whole grains
Tropical fruits like bananas Temperature-climate fruits
like apples and plums
Pasta or legumes
Rice Basmati or other low GI rice

Many of these lower glycemic index foods contain a lot of fiber. Fiber is a carbohydrate that can't be broken down by digestive enzymes, so it doesn't raise blood glucose and adds no calories. Fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes while it improves bowel function, preventing constipation. For the person who has diabetes already, fiber reduces the blood glucose levels. The riper the fruit, the higher the GI.
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