Carbohydrates have earned a bad reputation among weight watchers but they are not all bad; as not all carbohydrates are equal. What matters is how one chooses them. That is some may be healthier than others.
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient found in many common food. Plant-based food such as grains and pulses (dals and legumes) are rich in carbohydrates. Commercially prepared, packed and processed foods may have added sugar or starch, which are forms of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate in its simplest form is sugar or glucose while in its complex form it is found as starch. Fibre is also a form of indigestible carbohydrate.
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, legumes, sugars, honey, jaggery.
Carbohydrates have numerous health benefits and have an important role in our diets. They include providing energy, protecting against diseases and weight control. The body uses carbohydrate as its main fuel source. Sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion and are absorbed in the bloodstream. Some of this is used as fuel for activity and excess is converted to fat.
Dietary fibres from whole grains, fruits and vegetables helps protect against digestive problems, weight problems, type 2 diabetes heart disease and cancer.
Carbohydrates increase blood sugars and can be classified on the basis of their effect on blood sugars. This is measured in a frequently used term called ‘glycemic index’ (GI).
The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise your blood sugar level. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds raise blood sugar slowly and have a low glycemic index. Weight-loss diets based on the glycemic index typically restrict foods with a relatively high glycemic index such as rice, wheat flour, potatoes and corn. Either limit the portion of these foods or combine them with low glycemic foods and fibre. Low glycemic carbohydrates help you lose weight and keep you feeling full longer.
Besides quality, amount of carbohydrates too is important. According to recommendations, carbohydrates make up 45 to 60 per cent of the total daily calories. So choose carbohydrates wisely when looking to lose weight or for a proper diet (see box).