Americans have a love hate relationship with carbohydrates. We believe that carbs make us fat and sluggish, but despite our beliefs the research reveals we consume carbohydrates in almost record amounts. What’s the truth about carbohydrates? Here is what is known.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates come in two forms: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are the main source of dietary fibers and are found in whole grain breads, brown rice, and many vegetables. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits, milks, and sweeteners added by manufacturers. Simple carbs are generally more processed than complex carbs.

Sugars are those carbohydrates found in fruits, milk and sweeteners added by manufacturers. Clearly, the added sugars by manufacturers and in sweet foods are creating the bad reputation that carbohydrates have earned over the years.

In the early 1900’s, the average American was consuming about 500 grams (2000 calories) from carbohydrates. Yet, obesity was not a clinical problem. Why? The food was unprocessed and as a nation we were active throughout the day.

Americans today eat more carbohydrates but the choices are more likely to be processed white pasta, rice and corn products such as chips. Additionally, the consumption of added sugars has increased by 22% from the 1980’s to the year 2000 according to the Economic Review Service of the USDA.

So more processed carbohydrates and added sugars are dominating the food landscape. This increase in processed carbohydrates means less whole grains consumed. This is where the problem lies. The absence of whole grains can cause real problems.

Most Americans consume less than one serving of a whole grain( 1 ounce) per day. The current dietary guidelines recommend at least 85 grams or 3 ounces per day.

Benefits of Carbohydrates

1. They provide energy
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel. When you digest food, your body breaks down its sugars and starches and absorbs them into your bloodstream, becoming glucose, or blood sugar. Your body needs glucose to have the energy to do anything from breathing to exercising to providing proper brain function. Without carbs, you can become weak, lethargic and unable to focus.

2. Weight control
Carbs are often blamed for weight gain, but the truth is that they’re crucial for healthy weight control. While simple carbohydrates may aid in weight gain, complex carbs are the only source for dietary fiber. Fiber-rich foods add bulk to your diet, allowing you to feel full more quickly. Additionally, most high-fiber foods are generally low in calories, helping you lose weight.

3. Heart Health
Dietary fibers from complex carbohydrates may prevent cholesterol from accumulating in your arteries and creating blockages that could lead to stroke or heart attack. Whole grain foods, such as fruit, vegetables, oat, whole wheat, bran and quinoa can give your heart the valuable fiber it needs.

Research from the Health Professionals Follow up study demonstrates that whole grain consumption can reduce the risk of high blood pressure. This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last September, analyzed the dietary impact of whole grains on blood pressure. This study included over 31,000 men. Those with the highest intake of whole grain and specifically bran had a 15% lower risk of blood pressure.

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