From the tree main classes of macronutrients, carbohydrates are banned from many diets and even nutritionists and health organizations consider them to be one of the major causes of obesity. Despite the bad reputation that carbs managed to earn, there are multiple types of carbohydrates and not all of them have the same effect on the human organism.
Also known as saccharides, the main trait that defines carbs is that all of them contain only carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Based on the number of molecules of a carb’s structure they are divided into monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.
The simple carbohydrates, monosaccharides and disaccharides, are the simplest forms of carbs and their names usually end up in “-ose”. Examples: glucose, fructose (in fruits), sucrose (in cane and beet sugar), lactose (in dairy).
Polysachharides or complex carbohydrates are also divided into several types, but the ones we normally consume are called starches. These are the most frequent carbohydrate found in the human diet as staple foods (wheat, rice, potatoes, and corn) contain it in large amounts.
The simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down by the human organism so they provide short-term energy but not essential nutrients and vitamins. This doesn’t mean you should avoid them at all costs, as they are found in fruits, vegetables, milk and other foods that also contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The simple carbs that are found in processed foods that lack other nutrients… those are the ones that should be avoided. Some of the most common of these foods include table sugar, candy, soft drinks and syrups. Other foods rich in simple carbohydrates and low in nutrients are white bread, pasta and rice. It’s best to choose whole grain products as they haven’t been stripped of fiber, vitamins, fatty acids and other nutritious substances.
Complex carbohydrates or starches take longer to be broken down and they do provide the human body with vital nutrients. Resistant starch is also a carbohydrate that acts as dietary fiber (read here for more on health effects of fiber). Foods that naturally contain complex carbohydrates include potatoes, beans, lentils, carrots, zucchini, cucumbers and radishes. Vegetables also contain fiber, which are essential in the human diet as they promote weight-loss and improve digestion.
Carbs are definitely just as important as fats and protein in our diet. We need every single one of these nutrients in order to be healthy and prevent diseases derived from poor nutrition. Of course you can gain weight from carbohydrates, but it can also happen from protein and fat. No matter how healthy are the foods we eat, eating too much of anything leads to an excess of calories and extra weight.