The only food that is a carbohydrate is pure sugar. There are three kinds of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and fiber. These are formed by combining simple sugar molecules together in different ways. To say that a food other than sugar is a carbohydrate is not really correct then. Instead, we say that foods contain carbohydrates and the amount they contain determines their affect on our bodies.
Carbohydrates are formed in plants when the plant uses the energy from the sun and the green chlorophyll in their leaves to make a form of energy for themselves. The leaf uses this method to combine carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen together to form a sugar molecule. These sugar molecules are what the plant uses to grow. They are each like a little packet of energy.
The plant can use these simple sugar molecules to form more complex carbohydrates like starch and fiber. When we eat a plant based food we are eating the starch and fiber, along with other nutrients found in the plant. The plants have carbohydrates in them, but they are not carbohydrates themselves. So, to ask what foods are carbohydrates is not really the proper way to ask the question, instead we should ask which foods contain carbohydrates?
What Foods Have Carbohydrates
A carbohydrate is formed in a plant as it grows so we know that the foods which contain them will be foods that come from plants. This includes fruits, grains, and vegetables. We won’t find carbohydrates in meat, fish, or poultry. This is why the original low carb diet plans stressed the eating of meat and drastically limited the amount of plant based foods that were eaten.
This method did work, in the short term. If you cut out the majority of the plants in your diet, say all but about 30 grams a day like in the Atkins, then you will lose weight but this is not a diet that you can stay on for very long. The problem is you just get too bored with it and before you know it you right back to eating the way you did before and you put the weight back on.
The idea behind limiting carbohydrates (carbs) is really quite easy to understand if we are looking for a way to lose weight. As I said above, a carb is just a molecule that is formed from a lot of simple sugar molecules which are stuck together. When the plant forms the carbohydrates it uses them for two functions. The first is as a way to store energy for further use. It is not very efficient to try to pack a lot of individual sugar molecules into the plant and store them for later use. It is much better to take those individual sugar molecules and combine them together to form bigger molecules. Picture a lot of sugar molecules stuck end to end or stuck together like the branches on a tree and you will basically know what a carbohydrate looks like.
When the sugars are bonded together very loosely like this we call the molecule a starch. Starches are very easy for our bodies to digest, that means it is very easy for our digestive tract to break them back down into their individual sugars.
The plant can also stick the sugars together tightly so it is very hard to break them apart. When they are constructed this way we call it fiber. Cellulose is a carbohydrate that is formed in this way and it gives the plant its strength. Fibers are very difficult for our digestion to break down and, in fact, fiber just passes right through us without giving any nutritional benefit at all.
What Foods Are High In Digestible Carbohydrates
When we are concerned about the carbohydrates in our foods because we want to lose weight or we want to control our diabetes, we are interested in how fast the particular food’s starches and sugars are digested into the blood stream in our intestines. This digestion process passes the simple sugar molecules into our blood stream where it is called blood glucose (blood sugar). Continued high levels of blood sugars will cause us to gain weight.
It turns out that not all foods release their sugars at the same rate. Two of the factors which determine how much sugar is digested are the amount of fiber (carbs that can’t be digested) in the food and how easy the starch is broken down into its sugar molecules. This is why we want to eat foods that contain fiber with every meal. It will help to limit the rise in blood sugar.
The modern food industry has found many ways to provide foods that taste good, the problem is these processed foods have been modified so that their starches are more easily broken down into sugar or, worse yet, sugar has been added to the foods. This means that if you eat a diet that consists of a lot of these factory foods, the amount of sugar in your blood will tend to rise a lot faster than if you eat more natural foods that have not been processed.
The key to losing weight and to controlling the effects of diabetes is to eat foods that will either contain no carbs, like meat, fish, and poultry, or that contain small amounts which are not easily digested into sugars. This would include most vegetables besides potatoes. Stay away from any bakery goods like white bread, donuts, and cake because there are usually made with highly processed flour which releases its sugars very easily.
Understanding what carbohydrates are and then choosing foods that are low in carbs that will quickly increase your sugar levels will help you to lose weight and live a healthy life.
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