Breakdown of Carbohydrates from a Nutrition Expert

Breakdown of Carbohydrates from a Nutrition Expert

Dec 27, 2023Tori Sajovec, RD, LD

Carbohydrates may have a bad reputation, but they are not your enemy! Nutrient-dense carbs are a significant component of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates, also known as sugar, offer an immediate energy source for your body. They provide fuel for your muscles and organs to function normally. There are two general types of carbs. The first type is simple carbohydrates, which are fast-acting sugars that are easy for your body to digest. The second type is complex carbohydrates, which your body digests slowly, keeping you feeling fuller longer. Fiber is an essential indigestible complex carb. It's recommended for men to consume 38 grams of fiber per day, and women should consume 25 grams of fiber per day.  

Sources of simple carbohydrates: White grains, pasta, specific dairy foods, fresh and dried fruits, fruit juices, and processed foods (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, jellies, candy, etc.) 

Sources of complex carbohydrates: Whole-grain breads and starches, beans, and starchy vegetables (corn, squash, peas, potatoes) 

Carbs provide all cells in the body with the necessary energy to complete daily tasks and physical activity. You need about 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates to follow an average healthy diet. If you consume more carbs than your body needs, the excess is converted into fat, as the body only stores a limited amount of carbs in the liver and muscle cells to use when you need an extra burst of energy. On the other hand, if you eat fewer carbs than you need, you might experience fatigue, muscle cramps, poor mental function and headaches. 

Carbs are your body's first choice for fuel. A low-carb diet may seem healthy and assist in fast weight loss, but it mimics starvation. Healthy weight loss should be about 1-2 pounds lost per week.     

Aim to choose better-for-you carb options like the following: 

  • Whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereals. Whole grain should be the first ingredient listed on the label 
  • Try milk, yogurt and other non-fat dairy options to get fewer calories along with your calcium and vitamin D.  
  • Beans and legumes are an excellent source of fiber. Mix black beans into your favorite salsa to bump up the nutritional value of your favorite taco topping.  
  • Starchy vegetables including corn, peas, squash, and potatoes. These are loaded with vitamins and minerals to support your overall health. 

When you consume carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose, or sugar, for your body and brain to use. For the body to utilize the glucose, it secretes insulin. Limiting your consumption of refined, sugary carbs, such as white flour, processed foods, fruit juice, soda and sweets like candy, cake, cookies and ice cream is important. Since your body breaks down these carbs faster, it produces insulin more quickly. If little to no insulin is available, glucose can build up in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar. 

Connect with your local Hy-Vee dietitian on our virtual nutrition services platform and schedule a complimentary Discovery Session to learn more. Hy-Vee dietitians offer various services to help you meet your weight loss and nutrition goals, including one-on-one consultation packages, personalized menu plan programs, virtual nutrition store tours and more. 

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice. 

About the Registered Dietitian 
Tori Sajovec RD, LD, received her Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics with a minor in English from Iowa State University. From there, her passions took her to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she completed her 10-month dietetic internship program through Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. As her knowledge of food and nutrition grew, so did her desire to educate customers and clients on their overall well-being. Her goal as a dietitian is to make health and wellness an insightful and enjoyable lifestyle for all.

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