Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, cereal, grains, bread, milk and foods that contain sugar. Your body turns carbohydrates into glucose, the substance that energizes your cells, tissues and organs. Your best option for a balanced lifestyle is to understand the various types of carbs to choose the ones that will provide optimal nutritional benefits.
Choosing the Best Carbs
The best carbohydrates promote health by providing fiber, vitamins and minerals. These include whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruit. Processed foods, sodas and pastries are examples of carbohydrates you should avoid or eat infrequently as they do not provide additional nutrients and can contribute to or promote weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.
There are three types of carbohydrates: starches, sugars and fiber. Sugars are easily absorbed in the body. Some foods that contain sugars include honey, fruits, vegetables, milk, processed foods, candy and desserts. You don't have to completely forgo simple carbohydrates, but the best choices for optimal nutritional benefit are fruits, vegetables and milk as these contain vitamins or fiber in addition to sugar.
Starches and Fiber
Starches, or complex carbs, take longer to digest than sugars. These starches include whole grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables and legumes. This type of carbohydrate usually contains vitamins and minerals and is a good source of fiber. Fiber, the indigestible part of a plant, is important in maintaining digestive health. It also helps create a sense of fullness so it may be beneficial in weight-loss plans.
Carbohydrates are so important to health that Harvard School of Public Health's Healthy Eating Plate recommends that most of your plate be made up of healthy carbohydrates, half with vegetables and fruits and one-fourth with whole grains. Harvard suggests that counting carbohydrate grams or strictly limiting intake is less important than eating healthy carbohydrates of primarily starches or fiber while avoiding simple carbohydrates unless they also contain fiber or nutrients.