Why Do We Need Carbohydrates in Our Diet?

Carbohydrates provide energy in the form of glucose, or blood sugar. Glucose is necessary to support your body's everyday needs and performance. But not just any old carb will do; choosing wisely among starches, sugars and fibers helps you maintain your energy levels, avoid weight gain and combat sugar crashes.

A large pile of whole grain spaghetti. Credit: HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images

Carbs Offer Energy and Protect Performance

Your body sees carbs as its preferred energy source. In the body, carbs are broken down and converted to glucose and other sugars needed to supply tissues and organs with the fuel they need to perform necessary functions. If your body doesn't get enough glucose, you can experience low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. This may make you feel physically and mentally fatigued, shaky, dizzy or lightheaded, and it can decrease your performance during exercise or everyday tasks.

Carbs Protect Proteins in the Body

If no carbohydrates are supplied in the diet, the body looks to other sources, including proteins and fats. This occurs during low-carb diets, for example. While carbs are the body's most efficient energy source, fats are the least efficient. Protein has more important work to do; its main role is to supply amino acids to support muscle. If proteins are instead forced to work as glucose providers, they are not able to feed muscles.

Healthy Carbohydrates: Starch and Fiber

Starches, sugars and fibers make up the carb family. Starches and fibers are healthy sources and are also known as complex carbohydrates. Good sources include beans, peas, potatoes and grains like oats, rice and barley. Fiber makes you feel full and is also indigestible, sweeping toxins out of the system. Good sources include many starchy foods like beans, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Add fiber to the diet slowly to decrease the risk of stomach upset.

Carbohydrates to Limit: Sugars

Sugars are also referred to as simple carbohydrates. They occur naturally in fruits and milk and are also added to many foods in the form of cane sugar, honey and maple syrup. They also appear as refined carbohydrates, as with white bread, white pasta or many cereals. Although these foods technically offer carbs, they're not ideal versions. They have much less nutrition than whole complex carbs, leading to possible weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

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