What's a Carbohydrate?

What's a Carbohydrate?

What's a carbohydrate? Carbs are a large group of compounds found in foods that get converted by your body to glucose, or sugar, for fuel. Basically, they're the building blocks for your body's energy!

Because carbs play an important role in the absorbtion of sugars in the body, they can affect everything from your weight to your mood. For diabetics and nondiabetics alike, knowing what a carb is can make the difference in how you feel and in the types of foods you eat.

In meal planning, most people don't know how to count a carb, so let's break it down more simply.

A carbohydrate can be counted as any of the following:

A dairy product, such as 6 ounces of yogurt or 8 ounces of cow or non-cow milk provide about 12 grams of carbohydrate.

A 8-ounce serving of fruit, or about as much as a tennis ball, is about 15 grams of carbohydrate.

All of the following also contain 15 grams of carbohydrate:

  • 1 slice of bread or tortilla
  • 1/2 hamburger bun, hotdog bun, English muffin
  • 1/2 cup corn, pasta, potato, beans, peas, lentils
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup of rice, quinoa, etc.
  • 3 cups popped corn

Packaged goods will include their carbohydrate total per serving on the Nutrition Facts Label.

Blood sugar levels tend to stay the most stable when you consume a greater amount of complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbs include foods like candy, soda, and milk, which are low in nutrients and usually quickly raise your blood sugar levels, giving you a burst of energy followed by a very rapid crash.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the ones that keep your blood sugars stable. These include more high-fiber options, like beans and whole grain breads.

Ironically, simple carbs lead to low blood sugars more often, quickly raising your blood sugar first due to the simpler sugar chemical structure and then causing a quicker drop. Complex carbs contain fiber, vitamins and minerals, which take longer to digest, having a less immediate impact on sugar levels.

Studies show the human body needs at least 130 grams of carbohydrate daily to carry out all of its metabolic functions. Other studies show that when we restrict carbohydrates, damage can occur to the body, further progressing diabetes.

Be sure to maintain a good balance of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber on a daily basis. Avoid restricting carbohydrate intake.

Finally, remember that avoiding fat, especially animal fat, ensures carbohydrates get taken into the muscles and brain promptly - avoiding these fats ensures your body stays efficient!

Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator

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