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ulltimate guide on carbohydrates

The Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are usually seen as the enemy when trying to lose weight. A lot of diets revolve around reducing carbohydrate intake, and while it does somehow affect weight, it is important to remember its essential functions to our body. There is more to carbs than being an additional pound or two. In this Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates, we will dive deep to what carbohydrates are all about so you can further understand what it is all about.

What are carbohydrates?

ulltimate guide on carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, also known as ‘saccharides’ and ‘carbs’, are biomolecules that serve as a macronutrient in our body. It is one of our main sources to generate and transport energy, along with proteins and fats. Most foods and beverages contain these macronutrients in different proportions to sustain our body’s needs.

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Although most people only associate carbs to bread and pasta, this food group is actually more complex than you might think. It has different types that provide different sustenance and function. Not all carbs are bad — it’s just a matter of knowing how to properly integrate them into your diet.

Key Functions of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, however, most people seem to look past its benefits and primary functions. While many diets advocate for eliminating carbohydrates in your daily food intake, it is still important to know that these are vital for our body to properly function. Here are some of the key functions that carbohydrates play in our daily lives.

Provide and store energy

energy giving

Carbohydrates provide and store energy for our body. Carbohydrates are broken down and our cells convert it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — known as fuel molecule — through a complex process called cellular respiration. ATP is then used for metabolic processes and other bodily functions. While ATP can be acquired from multiple sources, carbohydrates are still usually the primary energy source.

Our body stores excess glucose in the form of glycogen in our liver and muscle. These stored molecules are released into our blood to provide energy and maintain sugar levels between meals. Additionally, stored glucose helps us function and get through rigorous activity and high-intensity exercise. Beware, though, as fats come in when there is too much glucose. This is the bad side of carbohydrates that most people know about, so make sure that you are aware of taking in carbs in moderation.

Prevents muscle loss

prevent muscle loss

To make sure that we function properly, our body stores broken down glucose. Once we don’t have enough glucose in our system, our body tends to break down our muscles into amino acids. These amino acids are then further converted to glucose and other compounds to compensate for the energy that we are lacking. Having carbohydrates in our system would help us eliminate this scenario, letting us keep our muscle mass and still have enough energy to get through the day.

Help our digestive system

As we will discuss further, one type of carbohydrates is fiber, which promotes a healthier digestive tract. Soluble fiber, usually found in oats and legumes, helps in softening our stool making our bowel movements much easier. Some of its reported benefits include the improvement of stool consistency and the increase of the frequency of bowel movements. On the other hand, insoluble fibers found in whole grains and seeds of fruits and vegetables, are helpful to relieve constipation and make digestion move a little quicker in our digestive tract.

Brain Function Support

Carbohydrates are crucial for brain health. The brain relies on glucose, a simple sugar from carbs, as its main energy source. Since the brain can’t store glucose, it needs a constant supply from the bloodstream. Without enough carbs, cognitive functions like focus, memory, and learning suffer. Keeping a steady carb intake helps maintain peak brain performance and mental clarity.

Acid-Base Balance

Carbs help maintain the body’s acid-base balance. When metabolized, carbs produce bicarbonate, a buffer that neutralizes acids. This buffering is vital for keeping the pH balance of blood and other fluids, which is essential for enzyme function and metabolic processes. An imbalance can cause health issues like metabolic acidosis, which is serious and can be life-threatening.

Synthesis of Essential Molecules

Carbs are also key in making essential molecules. For example, they help form ribose, a sugar crucial for RNA and DNA, the genetic material in cells. This highlights the role of carbs in cell division, growth, and repair.

Supporting Immune Function

Carbs found in fruits and veggies support immune health. These carbs contain bioactive compounds that boost the immune response, helping protect against infections and aiding the body’s healing and recovery from illness.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates consist of different types and do not only refer to what we usually associate with (starches and bread). Here are the major types of carbohydrates and what they look like:



Commonly referred to as “complex carbohydrates”, starches are made up of long chains of glucose, which are broken down by our body to produce energy. Some food that includes a lot of starch is corn, potatoes, lentils, and grains like oats and rice.



Usually referred to as “simple carbohydrates”, sugars are made up of one molecule (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide). Glucose, fructose (found in fruits like bananas, apples, and more), galactose (found in dairy), and sucrose are examples of such. Our body can get sugar either naturally or through added sugar that is included during the production of food. Because it is easily absorbed by the body, it is also commonly called a fast-acting carbohydrate.


grains source of fiber

Usually found through plant-based food like vegetables and nuts, this type of carbohydrate is found in the cellulose of a plant. Fiber is not digested or absorbed by our body and it simply passes through our intestines. However, it plays a huge role in our digestive system, helping us to feel full and satisfied after eating. It also helps our bowel movements become regular. Some great sources of fiber are grains, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

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Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates

When dietitians talk about carbohydrates, you may often hear “simple” and “complex” carbs. The main difference between simple and the complex carb is usually the amount of time it takes for our body to digest and absorb these carbohydrates, as well as its main chemical structure.

Simple Carbs

Simple carbs, called “sugars,” have one or two sugar molecules. Examples of these are glucose, fructose, and lactose. These sugars are in fruits, milk, and veggies but also in sweets and processed foods.

Due to their simple form, simple carbs digest and absorb fast. This quick breakdown releases glucose into the blood, causing a fast energy spike. Yet, this energy boost is brief and leads to a quick drop in blood sugar, making you feel hungry soon after and possibly leading to overeating.

High simple carb foods include candies, sodas, syrups, and pastries with refined sugars. These often lack nutrients and can cause weight gain and health issues if eaten too much. But, simple sugars in whole fruits come with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, slowing sugar absorption and adding health perks.

Complex Carbs

Complex carbs, like starches and fibers, have long sugar molecule chains called polysaccharides. These are in whole grains, legumes, veggies, and tubers. Their complex form means they digest slowly, providing steady energy and keeping blood sugar stable. This slow digestion helps you feel full longer, cutting down on snacking.

Complex carbs also pack in nutrients. Whole grains offer fiber, B vitamins, iron, and more. Veggies and legumes add fiber, vitamins, and minerals for better health.

Fiber, a complex carb, is key for its health benefits. It isn’t digested but aids in bowel health. Soluble fiber in oats and beans can lower cholesterol by removing it from the body. Insoluble fiber in whole grains and fruit skins adds bulk to stool and aids regularity.

Balancing Carbs

Knowing the differences between simple and complex carbs helps you choose better foods. Focus on complex carbs for lasting energy and nutrients. Eat a variety of whole grains, veggies, fruits, and legumes to get needed fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Not all simple carbs are bad. Whole fruits have natural sugars, fiber, and antioxidants that boost health. Balance is key, so watch out for added sugars in processed foods and sweets.

Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates


Carbohydrates, despite its bad reputation, is not really detrimental for our body. In fact, it’s actually a vital food group that we have to regularly take. This way, we can make sure that we are properly energized, our body has enough nutrients to keep us going, and we have taken a good amount to properly function through our days.

While it is important for our body, we cannot discount the fact that it can also results in weight gain and complications, especially when we take too much simple carbs/sugar. As with everything, carbohydrates are good for us as long as we take it in moderation, and we do our best to choose better options on where we get our carbs.


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