Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient that you actually need in your diet each day. Starch and sugar carbs give you glucose, which is the fuel you need to function, while fiber keeps everything moving. Your system uses all digestible carbohydrates the same way, whether they come from healthy foods or processed ones, but that doesn’t mean that all foods are created equal.
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Good Vs. Bad
Almost all foods you eat contain some type of carbohydrate -- starch, sugar, fiber or a combination of those. Good carbs come from minimally processed whole foods. Examples include low-fat dairy, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, veggies and fruits. You’ll get starch, sugar or possibly a little fiber in heavily manufactured foods too. But these are often grouped as “bad carbs” because aside from calories, these foods tend to offer minimal amounts of micronutrients, healthy unsaturated fats, protein and fiber.
Starches are complex molecules made up of many branches of sugars. Because of their multifaceted structure, your body takes a while to break them down, giving you long-lasting energy from a steady supply of glucose. Good-carbohydrate starches in your diet should come from whole grains, vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts instead of from processed foods. You’ll still get starch from manufactured products, including white bread, chips, crackers and pasta. They’re usually lacking in vitamins, minerals and fiber, however.
Details on Sugar
Sugar isn’t necessarily a sinful splurge. Your system needs sugar to get that quick burst of glucose fuel you might need after skipping a meal or during times of vigorous physical activity. Good-carbohydrate sugars are found naturally in healthy foods, like lactose in low-fat yogurt and milk or fructose in apples, oranges and other fruits. Your body processes natural sugar the same way as added sugars, such as sucrose in sugary desserts. But junk foods don’t have all the minerals, vitamins or fiber you’ll get from natural good sugar sources. So the next time you need to curb your sweet tooth, enjoy something that’s naturally sweet and packed with nutrients -- fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt with a drizzle of honey or no-sugar-added dried fruit.
You might not think of fiber as a carbohydrate, although it does have a similar chemical makeup to sugars and starches, putting it in the same carb category. The difference with fiber is that because the structure is slightly different, your body cannot break it down. Therefore, it doesn’t convert to glucose or have calories. Fiber is a good carb for many reasons. Insoluble fiber, found mainly in veggies, fruit skins and whole grains, sweeps out your gut. It’s because of insoluble fiber that you have regular easy-to-pass stools. Soluble fiber absorbs intestinal liquid, forming a slow-moving sludge. This function gives nutrients adequate time to absorb in your intestines, delays glucose absorption for stable sugar levels and flushes out some of the extra cholesterol roaming around. You'll get soluble fiber from the flesh of fruits, oats and beans.