The Low Carb Diet Craze

from Deena's "Nutritional Guide" Booklet

Understanding Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is the main fuel for life. Carbs are converted into glycogen which is the fuel for our muscles. The amount of glycogen in our muscles dictates how hard and long we can exercise for. High glycogen levels mean we can train harder and for longer. As active triathletes we should be aiming to get 70% of our calories from carbohydrates, which for a diet of 2500 kcal a day equates to 437 grams.

Complex Carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Foods such as breads, legumes, rice, pasta and starchy vegetables contain complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules that are strung together in long complex chains. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are turned to glucose in the body and are used as energy. Glucose is used in the cells of the body and in the brain. Any unused glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for use later. Complex carbohydrate foods provide vitamins and minerals that are important to the health of an individual. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates (starches) and naturally occurring sugars rather than processed or refined sugars.

Simple carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits, milk and vegetables. Cake, candy and other refined sugar products are simple sugars which also provide energy but lack vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Simple carbohydrates are found naturally in foods such as fruits, milk, and milk products. They are also found in processed and refined sugars such as candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbohydrates (starches) and naturally occurring sugars rather than processed or refined sugars.

Alternative names
Starches; Simple sugars; Sugars; Complex carbohydrates; Diet - carbohydrates; Simple carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the main dietary components. This category of foods includes sugars, starches, and fiber.

The primary function of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. Your liver breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar), which is used for energy by the body.

Food Sources
Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex. The classification depends on the chemical structure of the particular food source and reflects how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars while complex carbohydrates have three or more.

Examples of single sugars from foods include fructose (found in fruits) and galactose (found in milk products). Double sugars include lactose (found in dairy), maltose (found in certain vegetables and in beer), and sucrose (table sugar). Honey is also a double sugar, but unlike table sugar, contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals. (NOTE: honey should not be given to children under 1 year old.)

Complex carbohydrates, often referred to as "starchy" foods, include:
  • breads
  • pastas
  • cereals     
  • starchy vegetables
  • legumes    
  • rice
Simple carbohydrates that contain vitamins and minerals occur naturally in:
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • milk and milk products
Simple carbohydrates are also found in processed and refined sugars such as:
  • candy
  • syrups (not including natural syrups such as maple)
  • table sugar
  • regular carbonated beverages
Refined sugars provide calories, but lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Such simple sugars are often called "empty calories" and can lead to weight gain. Also, many refined foods, such as white flour, sugar, and polished rice, lack B vitamins and other important nutrients unless they are marked "enriched." It is healthiest to obtain carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible -- for example, from fruit instead of table sugar.

Side Effects
  • Excessive carbohydrates can cause an increase in the total caloric intake, causing obesity.
  • Deficient carbohydrates can cause a lack of calories (malnutrition), or excessive intake of fats to make up the calories.

For most people, between 40% and 60% of total calories should come from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates (starches) and naturally occurring sugars. Complex carbohydrates provide calories, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Foods that are high in processed, refined simple sugars provide calories, but they have few nutritional benefits. It is wise to limit such sugars.

To increase complex carbohydrates and healthy nutrients:
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat more whole grains, rice, breads, and cereals.
  • Eat more legumes (beans, lentils, and dried peas).
Here are recommended serving sizes for foods high in carbohydrates:
  • Vegetables: 1 cup of raw vegetables, or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables, or 3/4 cup of vegetable juice
  • Fruits: 1 medium size fruit (such as 1 medium apple or 1 medium orange), 1/2 cup of a canned or chopped fruit, or 3/4 cup of fruit juice
  • Breads and cereals: 1 slice of bread; 1 ounce or 2/3 cup of ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, lentils, or dried peas
  • Dairy: 1 cup of skim or lowfat milk
For information about how many servings are recommended see the food guide pyramid.

Here is a sample 2,000 Calorie menu of which 50-60% of the total calories are from carbohydrates.
  • 1 cup of raspberries
  • 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened cereal, with 1/2 sliced banana
  • 1 cup of skim milk
  • 1 slice of whole wheat toast
  • 1 teaspoon of margarine
  • 1 teaspoon of jelly
  • coffee or tea
  • turkey pita pocket sandwich (2 slices of whole wheat pita bread, 3 ounces of lean turkey breast )
  • 1/2 cup of shredded lettuce
  • 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of green peppers
  • 1 tablespoon of salad dressing
  • 1 cup of skim milk
  • 2 fresh, medium-sized peaches
  • 4 ounces of broiled salmon with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, sprinkled with paprika
  • 1 cup of pasta
  • 1 dinner roll
  • 6 steamed broccoli stalks with black pepper
  • salad:
  • 1 cup lettuce
  • 1/4 cup of sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup of sliced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup of sliced carrots
  • 1 tablespoon of salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup frozen unsweetened strawberries, sweetened with 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1-inch slice of angel food cake
  • 1 cup of skim milk

David Webner, M.D., Sports Medicine Fellow, Crozer-Keystone Family Practice Program, Springfield, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.   A.D.A.M. Medical Illustration Team
Deena Ministries is a ministry of Owings Presbyterian Church in Owings, SC.
©2009 Deena Ministries
Go to "What about Protein"
Back to Deena's "Nutritional Guidelines" Booklet Links
Back to Top of Page
Deena Ministries   ||   Deena Maria   ||   Music, Art & Poetry   ||   Resources   ||   Communicate