Carbohydrates – Everything You Need to Know About

Carbohydrates are one of the main parts of our daily food intake. They provide us with sugar and subsequently with energy. There is no question that we need energy and without it, we can’t function, just as a car wouldn’t function without gas.

Discussions about carbohydrates (carbs) have been heated in recent years. Some people blame carbs for the increasing number of obese individuals. A large number of individuals in our society are hooked and addicted to carbs, primarily the sugary ones.

What are carbohydrates exactly? Are they really to blame for our society’s failure to manage obesity? This is an interesting but very broad discussion. Let us review some facts about carbs, first.

We have three kinds of carbs in our foods,

1) Starches: some people also call them “complex carbohydrates”

2) Fibers

3) Sugar

Foods high in starch

You can find starches in a wide variety of common foods.

Do you know any foods containing starch?

Don’t worry, we will review some of them right here.

You can find starch in,

  • Vegetables, such as potatoes, lima beans, corn, and peas.
  • Grains like rice, barley and oats
  • In beans, lentils and peas.

Before we go any further, I would like to ask you the following question:

Why is eating whole preferred to refined grains?

You may have noticed that many experts recommend eating more whole grains than refined grains. To understand this recommendation, I would like to explain the difference between whole and refined grains. Whole grains are less processed and modified and refined grains are significantly processed and modified. Similar to everything else that we eat; we know that less processed and modified food is better than other types of food.

Structure of grains

Grain contains 3 major parts/layers. These three layers beginning from outside going towards the center are,

1) Bran
2) Germ
3) Endosperm

You have probably seen bran as part of many high fiber cereals because bran provides the most fiber. Bran covers the next layer called germ that provides us with essential fatty acids (these are fatty acids that the body can’t make) and vitamin E. The center of the grain “endosperm” provides us with starch.

For many years consumers have preferred refined grains because of their easier consumption. The outer layers of the grain are harder to chew, therefore, food companies have been removing these layers from the grain and delivering the center part of the grain that is softer and easier to chew for consumers.

It certainly requires a little bit of effort to get used to whole grain products.

There is no question that eating whole food is better than eating only part of it. Eating whole grain can deliver the entire spectrum of its nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Why fibers are good

Image Source: Bob’s Red Mill

I have written extensively about fiber and its benefits to our health especially in relation to disease prevention. Consumption of fiber has been inadequate throughout our society and its benefits are not very much appreciated.

It is important to distinguish between soluble and insoluble fiber. Each one of them provides us with different kinds of benefits to our health.

The following is an excerpt from “Lowering LDL-cholesterol and Triglycerides through Diet –Fiber”

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant products and is divided into two types based on water solubility. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, forms a gel-like material, and is found mainly in oats, apples, citrus, peas, barley, pectin, flaxseed, guar, and beans. Insoluble fiber is found in whole wheat flour, wheat bran, cellulose, lignin, nuts, and many vegetables.


Now let us talk about the most commonly known form of carbohydrates, “sugar”. Many different forms of sugar are available. Sugar that is found in fruits is called fructose, a sugar found in milk is lactulose and sucrose is the name of so-called table sugar.

Why extra-sugar is poisonous to our body

When I talk about extra sugar I mean sugar that has been put artificially into our food. Not the ones that are part of our unprocessed and natural food such as fruits but the ones that have been added to our drinks, cakes, and snacks. One of the most commonly used sugar forms is fructose. This sugar form has been suggested to be the cause of serious health problems such as obesity, which is associated with serious health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.

You may wonder why a sugar that is found in natural food such as fruit could result in health problems.

Let me explain.

Fructose in fruit is combined with other nutrients such as fiber, which could result in early satiety. How many apples or oranges can you eat in a short period of time? Most of us are not able to eat more than 1 to a maximum of two apples at once but we are able to drink a large amount of apple juice in a short amount of time. Consumption of a large number of empty calories (pure calories without any other nutritional benefit) can result in significant long-term health problems.

Why you should avoid drinking juices

Are you confused? I can imagine that you are confused. What is wrong with fruit juices? I am aware that there are fortified juices in the market, juices that have extra vitamins, omega 3 and many other things. However, most of the juices in the market provide you with empty calories without delivering measurable nutritional benefits. I know that many of them contain vitamins but getting a few vitamins doesn’t justify receiving so many unnecessary calories. I can only imagine a few situations where eating fresh fruit would not be possible, such as mouth surgery or swallowing problems. Otherwise, most of us can get enough vitamins through fresh and natural food.

Drinking juice makes us believe that we have done something for our health but we can do better.

Fruit juices are well packaged, look and taste good and are easy to consume. I agree with all of the above, but despite having so many positives they still don’t compare to the benefits of eating fresh fruit. Fresh fruit has fiber, it smells and looks nice, it activates our chewing system and taste buds and most of the time has fewer calories.

What are the healthiest and unhealthiest sources of carbohydrates?

I would like to summarize a large pool of information about our nutrition in relation to our body as follows:

To maintain a wide range of variety in our food we need to consume carbohydrates. But we should try to choose the better ones over the unhealthiest ones.

The healthiest sources of carbohydrates are from:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes

The unhealthiest sources of carbohydrates are from:

  • Refined grains
  • Processed foods
  • Sodas
  • Pastries
  • Candies

I hope this article will help you to understand carbs a little better. It is not the fault of carbs that our society is getting unhealthier. We are looking to blame nature for our own failures. However, this notion isn’t based on any facts. As usual, humans are the ones who deserve all the blame. How we make food and how we consume it, are the reasons for our misery.

If you haven’t already, I hope that you will start choosing the right carbohydrates starting now.