3 Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main nutritional component in most plants. They are the most easily obtained nutrient and most readily digestible form of fuel for the body. They can be stored by the body and released when the body needs energy. Carbohydrates are either simple (sugar) or complex (starch and fibre). include single sugars (called monosaccharides) such as:

  • Glucose (grape sugar and corn sugar)
  • Fructose (fruit sugar and honey)
  • Galactose (part of milk sugar)

Glucose is the body’s most important source of energy and many cells cannot be fuelled by any other carbohydrate. Other simple carbohydrates are double sugars (called disaccharides) and include:

  • Sucrose (table sugar)
  • Lactose (milk sugar)
  • Maltose (malt sugar)

Naturally sweet foods such as fruits, some vegetables, sugar cane, and honey are the main sources of simple carbohydrates in nature. Many naturally sweet foods (particularly fruits and vegetables) contain other nutrients required for good health. However, the most common simple carbohydrate in North American diets is refined sugar, which provides virtually no benefit to the human body other than a high energy (caloric) value. Refined simple carbohydrates are often referred to as “empty calories”; that is, there is little nutritional value in these sugars beyond their caloric content.

are composed of long chains of simple sugars. Starch is a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates are found in grain products such as cereals, flour, and pasta; legumes such as beans and peas; and tubers such as potatoes. Complex carbohydrates contain other recommended nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Starches must be broken down into glucose and fructose during digestion before they can be absorbed in the small intestine and become usable fuels for the body.

There are ways of increasing consumption of complex carbohydrates:

  • Eat unsweetened whole grained breakfast cereals and sweeten them, if you must, with fresh fruit or raisins instead of refined sugar. Read cereal box labels to verify that what you are eating is as nutritious as you think it is. For example, granola has the reputation of being a healthy morning cereal, but some brands contain large amounts of fat and sugar and so may be high in calories.
  • Eat fruits as desserts. Fresh fruit can be present in a number of ways including baking, poaching, or making it into a fruit compote. Read the labels on canned fruit. Try to find fruits packed in natural juices and avoid fruits canned in heavy syrup.
  • Eat rolls, breads, muffins, and other baked goods that are made from whole grains. Try to avoid using overly sweet jams and other spreads.
  • Try to eat entrées or side dishes based on legumes and grains. This includes rice, beans, pasta, and potatoes.

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