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QUESTION

I like meat and eggs, but when I add a lot of carbohydrates to my diet, I eat too many calories. Why are carbohydrates so important?

ANSWER

Carbohydrates are the human body's fundamental source of fuel, but not all carbohydrates are major sources of energy. There are two different types of carbohydrates, available carbohydrates and dietary fiber, Available carbs include starches and sugars, which are hydrolyzed, or absorbed, in the human digestive process. Dietary fiber is a plant food component made of linked carbohydrate units that cannot be separated by human digestive secretions.

Sugars and starches are metabolized, or processed, by the body and broken down to glucose, which is used by all the body's cells to create energy Inadequate carbs in your diet, therefore, can cause the higher centers of your brain, as well as your muscles, to malfunction. Available carbs also play a role in metabolizing fat for energy. In fact, even when you're burning away fat through diet and exercise, your body needs a byproduct of carbohydrate metabolism to function optimally during exercise.


Therefore, if there are no carbohydrates, your energy production will be limited and you'll burn protein instead-an undesirable situation because your body has other specific needs for protein. Consequently, you should eat at least the minimum recommended amount of carbohydrates so the protein is spared from being used as energy. This is referred to as the protein-sparing effect of carbohydrates.

Dietary fiber, or unavailable carbohydrates, enhances the activities of the gastrointestinal, or digestive, tract. The human digestive tract doesn't use fiber, because it can't break it down. Instead, most dietary fiber remains a solid material in the large intestine after the other components of food are absorbed, and the intestinal muscles get a workout moving the solid waste through the colon. Fiber is a also source of food for bacteria in the gut, and soluble fiber is believed to lower blood cholesterol because it reduces the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract.

All of this means that carbs are very important to your body even though some of their functions are minor. The National Research Council and other experts recommend that 60 percent or more of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, primarily a complex-carb and fiber intake of 25 to 40 grams a day.





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