We all need to consume carbohydrates but in a balanced diet. So how can we calculate the calories in carbohydrates and just how much should we be eating?
In general, carbohydrates supply the energy we need to live and move. Though they have got a lot of bad press lately, we cant live without them. Like most things, theres nothing wrong with carbohydrates per se, the problem is more to do with the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates that many of us eat.
In their natural state, carbs are low in calories (4 calories per gram compared to 9 calories per gram for fats), high in fibre, and packed with essential vitamins. Carbohydrates are found in a variety of foods, including fruit and vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar and alcohol.
Carbohydrates are divided into two groups, simple and complex: Simple carbohydrates are a good source of quick energy and include foods like fruit, cakes, soft drinks, sweets, and jam. They are also found in dairy products like milk.
Complex carbohydrates include much more starch and fibre. They take longer to be digested, allowing your body to gradually release the energy into your blood as glucose. Sources include vegetables, bread, rice, oatmeal, whole grains, peas and beans.
Problems arise when people eat too much carbohydrate as a total proportion of their diet, in particular simple carbohydrates. Eating simple carbohydrates leads to a rapid increase in blood sugar if this is too rapid, the body responds by raising insulin levels.
Insulin is a hormone that works to remove sugar from your blood, either giving it to your cells to use as energy, or storing it as fat. So the more simple carbohydrates you eat, the more insulin your body releases, the sooner your blood sugar dips, and the faster you feel hungry again.
The answer is to limit carbs to around 55-60% of your total food intake, and focus on complex sources for a slow, steady release of energy.