Wednesday, March 02, 2005

So what is a carbohydrate anyway ?

With so much discussion and research going on about carbohydrates, I thought it might be good to just sit down and define what exactly is a carbohydrate.

A carbohydrate is one of the three macro-nutrients that needs to be present in our diet, the other two being protein and fats. Our body uses carbohydrates as its preferred source of readily available energy - although fat and protein can be used as well - carbohydrates are the preferred source.

It may surprise you to hear that popular foods that are normally labelled carbohydrates such as bread is actually only 45% carbohydrates, the other 55% is made up by protein, fat, vitamins and mineral and water (mostly water - 39%).

Carbohydrates come in two forms - starches and sugars, which are broken down at differing rates (see the glycemic index)during digestion and absorbed into the blood stream as glucose.

You'll find that foods such as root vegetables, and baked goods contain the starchy carbohydrate. The carbohydrates in uncooked foods such as flour used to make baked goods are indigestable, and must be cooked to allow the carbohydrate to swell and absorb water in order to release their nutrients.

Of course, then there are the sugars, of which there are five types:

1. Glucose

2. Fructose

3. Sucrose

4. Lactose

5. Maltose

You might be able to guess what each of these sugars represent.

1. Glucose can be found in sweets, grapes, bananas and some vegetables and is very easily absorbed into the blood stream.

2. Fructose is fruit sugar and can be found in ripe fruits, some vegetables and honey.

3. Sucrose is made up of a combination of glucose and fructose and is the commonly used table sugar. It can be found in molasses, maple syrup and in many fruits.

4. Lactose is the milk sugar found in animal milks (cows, goats etc.)

5. Maltose is malt sugar and is produced when the malting of barley or wheat grains occurs.

Source: Saxelby (2002) Nutrition for Life Hardie Grant Books

So what does this all mean, well, carbohydrates are an absolute necessity for our bodies, in fact our energy intake should comprise atleast 40% carbohydrates if not more. By being aware of carbohydrates and how much we are consuming, we can include them as our fat burning foods and adjust our diets accordingly to make sure we're giving our bodies, what it needs for optimal fat burning.