Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches. Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. But carbohydrate quality is important; some types of carbohydrate-rich foods are better than others:
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates - unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans - promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.
Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
What do carbohydrates do for the body?
The two main functions of carbohydrates in the body are to provide energy for all cells and spare the use of protein from the muscles and organs.
When deprived of carbohydrates, our bodies can survive off of protein and fat, but only for a limited time.Carbohydrates are a primary source of food your body uses for energy. These include simple carbohydrates (such as honey, table sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup), as well as complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs include starches (such as bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes) and dietary fiber (found in fruits and vegetables, nuts, and whole grains).
Carbohydrate consumed in food yields 3.87 kilocalories of energy per gram for simple sugars, and 3.57 to 4.12 kilocalories per gram for complex carbohydrate in most other foods. Relatively high levels of carbohydrate are associated with processed foods or refined foods made from plants, including sweets, cookies and candy, table sugar, honey, soft drinks, breads and crackers, jams and fruit products, pastas and breakfast cereals. Lower amounts of carbohydrate are usually associated with unrefined foods, including beans, tubers, rice, and unrefined fruit. Animal-based foods generally have the lowest carbohydrate levels, although milk does contain a high proportion of lactose.