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Our body metabolizes carbohydrates into glucose, the body’s primary source of fuel. Glucose is the only form of fuel that the body can use immediately. It is essential for the functioning of the brain, nervous system, muscles and various organs. At any given time the body carries an hour’s supply of glucose. Any glucose that is not required for immediate energy is converted into glycogen, a large molecule composed of a chain of glucose units, which is stored in liver and muscles, whenever necessary the liver can reconvert it back to glucose. The body’s stores of glycogen are enough to last several hours of moderate activity.

Excess carbohydrates beyond what can be stored as glycogen is converted into fat and stored in the body.When the glucose reserves run low, the body turns first to protein and then to fat for conversion into glucose. Burning
protein robs the body of Lean muscle tissue. If the body burns fat in the absence of carbohydrates toxic byproducts called ketones are released leading to potentially dangerous biochemical imbalance. Hence, it is important that an appropriate amount of carbohydrate is consumed and that to in the right form. The different sources of carbohydrates are;
  • Cereals its products, and other grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Milk and milk products
  • Foods containing added sugars (e.g. cakes, cookies, and sugar-sweetened beverages).
Carbohydrates are classified according to chemical structure and digestibility they are divided into two groups:
  • Simple carbohydrates

  • Complex carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates, or sugars can generally form crystals that dissolve in water. Simple carbohydrates as the name suggests is easily digested thus is readily absorbed in the body raising the blood sugar immediately, thus it is essential to limit the intake of simple carbohydrates that are not natural like sugars and products made with sugars for example candies, aerated drinks, icing, etc. Natural occurring sugars are found in a variety of fruits, some vegetables and honey. Processed sugars include sugar, brown sugar, jaggery, and mollasses.
It is imperative to choose the source of simple carbohydrates carefully. Natural forms of simple sugars like fructose found in fruits can be consumed as it also contains fibre that helps control the sudden blood sugar rise in the body. On the other hand processed simple carbohydrates in its original state or when added to other foods not only increase blood sugar but also increase hunger and cravings.

The best way to avoid the ‘bad carbohydrates’ is by avoiding refined and processed foods, especially the ones that have the following ingredients;
  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
Other tips for avoiding added sugars include —
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened sodas.
  • Have whole fruits instead of fruit juices and fruit drinks.
  • Have a piece of fruit for dessert and skip desserts with added sugar.
  • Choose breakfast cereals that contain no or less added sugars.
Complex carbohydrates
The human diet worldwide is based on Complex Carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates have a range of textures, flavors, colors and molecular structures. Compounds made of complex chains of sugars, these carbohydrates are further divided into Starch and Dietary Fiber.
Our body can break down and metabolize most starches, which can be found in an array of grains, vegetables and some fruits. Starch is broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source. Our digestive system, lacks the enzymes that are needed to break down most fibre including cellulose and woody parts of the plant skeleton, pectin and other gums that hold the cells together. But dietary fibre is important as it promotes smooth function of colon, helps prevent cancer, heart disease and control the levels of cholesterol and glucose in blood. This is the reason why process of glucose release in the body is a gradual and does not raise blood sugars immediately so it is best to consume complex carbohydrates which is high in dietary fibre.
The effect of individual carbohydrate on the blood sugars depends on a variety of factors the best foods for consumption are the ones that have a low Glycemic Index (GI).
Quite a few commonly consumed foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as cereals like wheat, rice, maize, bajra, jowar, etc and its products and vegetables:
  • Starch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn)
  • Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains
  • Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.
Dietary fibre can be soluble as well as insoluble in nature and it one of the principle factor in controlling weight, blood sugars and cholesterol has been discussed separately in a separate section.
Whole grains are the best source of complex carbohydrates especially dietary fibre and are abundant with other nutrients too.
Whole grains refer to grains that have all of the parts of the grain seed (sometimes called the kernel). These parts of the kernel are called the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
If the whole grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked (as in cracked whole grain bread or flake cereal), then the whole grain must still have about the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm to be called a whole grain.

When whole grains are processed, some of the dietary fiber and other important nutrients are removed. A processed grain is called a "refined" grain. A processed grain is whiter and it is best to stay away from these ‘Deadly Whites’ like white breads, cakes, pastries, Pav, biscuits and cookies.
Instead choose whole grain options like Atta bread, seven grain bread, popcorn, rice flakes (poha), puffed rice (mumra).

How much carbohydrate does one need?

Your best approach is to follow a meal plan that gives 50% to 60% of the calories as carbohydrates. The amount of carbohydrate to be taken in depends on the age, sex, height, weight, and activity level and physiologic conditions of an individual. For more details refer to the Food Pyramid.
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