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pasta - noodles As high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets became more and more popular, people ate a minimal amount of carbohydrates and found, to their delight, that they quickly lost weight.  But several years down the road, we realize that low-carb diets are not all they're cracked up to be.  First of all, it was discovered that most of the weight lost on low-carb diets was water weight.  Secondly, people who followed low-carb diets for extended time periods found themselves with diminished energy levels.

That's because carbohydrates are one of the human body's main sources of energy.  In their purest forms, carbs are also low in calories and high in minerals, vitamins, and fiber.  Are carbs good for you?  Of course!  But not all carbs are good for you.  Carbs can be broken down into two categories:  simple carbohydrates, and complex carbohydrates.  Which category a carb fits into depends upon its chemical structure and digestibility.

Simple carbohydrates are sugars that dissolve in water and are easily digested.  Sugars can be naturally occurring, like those that show up in fruits, honey, maple sap, and some vegetables, or they can be processed, like those that show up in table sugar, brown sugar, and molasses.  Can you guess which simple sugars are best for you?  The ones that are naturally occurring, of course!

Complex carbohydrates are true to their name — they have a wide range of molecular structures, colors, flavors, and textures, and can be further broken down into starches and fiber.  Starches can be found in grains, vegetables, and some fruit, while fiber can be found in cellulose, woody parts of the plant skeleton, pectin, and gums that hold plants together.  The pasta shown at upper right is an example of a complex carbohydrate.

Once carbs are introduced into the body, they are made into glucose, which is the body's main source of fuel.  The body needs glucose in order for the brain, nervous system, muscles, and organs to function.

While there's no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbs, the U.S. government suggests that 55 to 60 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates like grains, starches, vegetables, and fruits.

You can learn more about the nutritional value of carbohydrates by visiting this Carbohydrates resource, published by the United States Department of Agriculture.

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Guide to Carbohydrates

cereals and grains
Cereals and Grains