By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

Source: Cleveland Clinic

For the past 2 months, we have spent time understanding sugar and how much we should take in our daily diet. It would be logically to follow the sugar discussion with a deeper appreciation of its relationship to carbohydrates. Nowadays, many health conscious folks would go light on carbohydrates. Let us explore together what are carbohydrates.

What are carbohydrates? What are good and bad carbs? How many carbs do I need in a day? Why are whole grains and fiber important? Does eating carbs cause weight gain? Answers to these and other questions about carbohydrates are answered in this article.

Carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars, starches and fiber in food. All carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules. Sugar molecules linked together form starches and fiber.

In the body, starches and sugars are broken down in the digestive system to glucose. Glucose is the fuel that provides energy and powers all of the body’s functions. Glucose is also called blood sugar.

Dietary fiber is a form of carbohydrate that is not broken down during digestion. It passes through the stomach, small intestine, colon and then out of the body.

Scientists and dietitians used to group carbohydrates into two types: complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates include starches and fiber. Simple carbohydrates include sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk as well as brown sugar, white sugar, honey and any sugar added to foods during processing.

Today, scientists and dietitians classify carbohydrates based on their fiber content and ingredients.

What are good carbs and bad carbs?

These are terms that different diet promoters have made popular. Usually, good carbs means foods that contain high fiber amounts. Good carbs take longer to be broken down by the body and used for energy. They are found in whole grain breads and cereals, products made from whole wheat flour, vegetables and fruits.

Bad carbs refers to foods that contain refined carbohydrates with a low fiber amount, mainly white flour and sugar. These are found in foods like white bread, cakes, cookies and other bakery items made with white flour; white (processed) rice and some cereals.

Dividing carbohydrates into good carbs and bad carbs is an easy way to think about good nutrition, but these are not exact, scientific terms. When thinking about eating a healthy diet, eat whole grain, high fiber foods rather than enriched, low fiber foods.

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: Identify the good carbs and bad carbs in your diet.

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