The importance of carbohydrates in the diet is often met with confusion and controversy as a result of the number of high-protein, low-carb diets on the market today. Many dieters decrease or severely restrict their carbohydrate intakes in an effort to lose weight. However, carbs are an essential part of the diet as they are the primary source of fuel for the body and brain. Not all carbs are created equally though, and complex carbohydrates should be selected over simple, refined carbs. Include complex carbs in your diet to improve your health as part of a nutritious eating plan and healthy lifestyle.
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Complex vs. Simple Carbs
Carbs can be divided into complex carbs and simple carbs. Simple carbs, such as white bread and flours, are processed foods that are stripped of their nutrients, wheat germ and bran during the refining process. They offer little nutrition, are low in dietary fiber and are a source of refined simple sugars. In contrast, complex carbs retain their nutrients, wheat germ, bran and the kernel, during the milling process. They are a source of dietary fiber and are digested more slowly in the body.
Complex carbs are a source of dietary fiber. Fiber is an essential nutrient in the diet that helps to regulate the digestive system. It helps push food through the digestive tract as well as bulks up stools to aid in the elimination of waste products. This prevents common digestive discomforts such as constipation, bloating and gas. The smooth elimination of waste from the body also aids in removing toxins and undigested materials from the body. This is beneficial for preventing illnesses and for long-term weight loss success.
Carbs are the primary source of fuel used by the body and brain to perform its necessary physical and mental functions. Insufficient carbs in the diet lead to lethargy, weakness, and difficulty concentrating and thinking, as well as low moods and irritability. Complex carbs found in whole-grains, vegetables and fruits are preferred over processed foods, such as packaged granola bars, cakes and candy, since they digest at a slower rate. This releases energy to the body over a longer period of time, keeping energy levels stabilized.
Vitamins and Minerals
Complex carbs are a source of essential vitamins and minerals needed in the body for normal functioning. Vitamins and minerals are essential for hormonal balance, reproductive health, normal skin, nails and hair growth and good eyesight, among others. High-fiber fruits and vegetables, such as berries, artichokes and cabbage, are a source of antioxidants, which aid in preventing certain cancers and heart disease. Whole-grain foods, including breads and rice, are also a source of the B vitamins, which provide energy to the body and prevent muscle weakness.