Carbohydrates are chemical compounds that are made up of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon.
Carbohydrates can be divided into 4 chemical groupings; monosaccharides and disaccharides (simple carbohydrates often referred to as sugars), as well as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates).
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy (calories) and are a key fuel source for exercise and sport.
Carbs are easily digested and are broken down into glucose, which the body then uses to do its various tasks. Protein and fat on the other hand, are more difficult energy sources to digest and are needed to build tissues and cells in the body.
Carbohydrates are where most of our daily energy intake should come from, but our bodies have a limit. Too many carbs and the body will covert the extra to fat.
Most food items we consume contain carbohydrates. All fruit and vegetables, all breads, grains and cereal products are carbohydrates as well as sugars and sugary foods.
Some foods have more carbohydrates in them than others, pasta, bread, rice, milk, potatoes, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, cereals, and popcorn are all high in carbohydrates.
Starch is the most common carbohydrate in the typical diet of a human being. Potatoes, rice, wheat and corn all contain large amounts of starch.
Carbohydrates are not all alike. Man-made refined carbs act differently in our bodies compared with more natural complex carbs.
Processed, man-made carbs offer little in terms of nutrition and are broken down, digested and used very fast by our bodies. Eating these carbs will give a temporary burst of energy, but soon after we feel tired or hungry again. Refined carbs, are found in foods such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, sugar, cookies, cakes, and fruit juices which require a number of processing steps in their manufacture.
More natural complex carbs on the other hand are loaded with nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals. These carbs do not cause the same spike in blood sugar levels, our body breaks them down and digests them much slower, so we feel full for longer. Non-manufactured foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice are all healthy natural carbs.
It is possible for humans to live healthy lives while eating very low levels of carbohydrates, because our bodies can convert proteins into carbohydrates.