What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates in food

If you want to know the answer to the question 'what are carbohydrates?' then you have come to the right page. Not only do we provide an explanation as to what a carbohydrate is, but we also cover what simple and complex carbohydrates are. On top of this we also talk about why we need carbohydrates, the functions of carbohydrates, a carbohydrates in food list and what carbohydrates do for your body. There really is a lot to learn on this page so please take the time to read through the free information that we have on offer.

There is much more to our site than information on complex carbohydrates, if you are interested in calories in foods or how many calories you need to eat a day to lose weight then please check out our other pages.

What are carbohydrates?

First of all let's answer the primary question, 'what are carbohydrates?' or 'what is a carbohydrate?', otherwise known as 'carbs'. There are two different types of carbohydrates and these are referred to as 'simple carbohydrates' and 'complex carbohydrates'. A carbohydrate is a nutrient and a vital source of energy for our bodies, much like calories are. When we consume carbohydrates that are contained in the foods that we eat the body converts them into glucose, which is blood sugar. Our bodies then use this sugar as energy for the tissues, organs and cells inside us. Any excess blood sugar is then kept inside the liver and muscles ready for when it is needed later on.

The difference between a simple carbohydrate and a complex carbohydrate is their chemical structure, we are going to provide a more thorough explanation in the following couple of sections.

So basically what carbohydrates are in essence is fuel for our bodies. They can be obtained from a variety of different food sources that we will cover later on down the page.

What are simple carbohydrates?

Now that you know what a carbohydrate is we are going to break down the difference between the two main types of carbs, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. First of all we will answer the question 'what are simple carbohydrates?' and also provide you with a simple carbohydrate foods list.

A simple carbohydrate has a different chemical composition to a complex carbohydrate and this means that they can be found in some foods and not others, the same applies to complex carbs. Simple carbohydrates consist of sugars that are found naturally in some foods and also sugars that have been added to other foods whilst they have been either processed or refined. The main food sources of simple carbs are fruit, milk related products as well as several refined foods that act as treats, such as donuts and cookies! Simple carbs are also known as 'simple sugars', as these are essentially what they are, if you put white sugar on your cereal or in your tea then you are consuming simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates food list

Now that we have explained what a simple carbohydrate is we are going to provide some examples of simple carbohydrates in food with our simple carbohydrates in foods list. As you will see many of the examples on this list are fruits, and these are good for you in a variety of ways as they have all of the essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to stay healthy and function properly. However, the refined foods on the list may also taste great but they are generally not so good for you, after all you don't hear many people on a diet talking about the candy bars, donuts and cookies that they eat.

Natural sources of simple carbohydrates:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blackberries
  • Blackcurrants
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Melon
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Refined and processed sources of simple carbohydrates:

  • Candy bars
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Flavored vitamin waters
  • Fruit juice
  • Fudge
  • Honey
  • Ice cream
  • Jam
  • Jelly
  • Soda
  • White bread

Remember that the natural sources of carbohydrates are going to be much better for you as they also provide you with many of the other essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies require on a regular basis. The refined and processed simple carbohydrate foods are only good in extreme moderation, after all we all deserve a treat now and again.

We hope that our simple carbohydrate foods list has been useful to you. In the next section we will talk about complex carbohydrates before we go on to discuss why we need carbohydrates and what the functions of carbohydrates are in our bodies.

What are complex carbohydrates?

Now that we have answered the main question 'what are carbohydrates?' in general and also discussed what a simple carbohydrate is, it is now time to cover another important question 'what are complex carbohydrates?'. Complex carbs are what are also referred to as 'starches' and they are found in many grain food products as well as in some natural foods such as some root vegetables.

We will cover complex carbohydrate foods in our next section. As we have explained in our section on simple carbs, the natural food sources of complex carbohydrates are much better for you because they contain many vitamins and minerals. Unrefined grain products still contain fiber and other nutrients however these are extracted when a food is refined, it is always worth bearing that in mind when you are looking for foods with complex carbohydrates in them. We will go on to talk about the functions of carbohydrates in the body later on down the page.

List of complex carbohydrates in food

Now that you know what a complex carbohydrate is we are going to provide you with a list of complex carbohydrates in food. Remember that natural sources of complex carbs are going to be better for your diet than refined foods. To ensure you have a healthy balance in your diet you should eat more natural foods that contain complex carbohydrates and less foods with added sugar, also whole grains are advised in preference over refined grains.

Refined and unrefined foods with complex carbs in:

  • All bran cereals
  • Barley
  • Bagels
  • Brown rice
  • Crackers
  • Flour
  • Muesli
  • Oat bran bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Pastas
  • Pita bread
  • Porridge
  • White rice
  • Whole grain breads
  • Whole grain flours

Natural foods with complex carbs in:

  • Bananas
  • Baked beans
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yam

Many of the foods containing complex carbohydrates are fantastic sources of fiber, for more information on what fiber is and foods high in fiber please click here. We hope that you now know what complex carbohydrates are and also the complex carb foods that they are found in.

Why do we need carbohydrates? Functions of carbohydrates

So we now know what carbs are and also the foods that contain both simple and complex carbs, but why do we need carbohydrates? I guess the best way of answering this is to explain what our body actually does with carbohydrates, so what the functions of carbohydrates are. As we now know both simple and complex carbohydrates are found in both natural and refined foods and the only way we can get carbohydrates into our body is to eat these foods. The purpose of eating these foods and getting these carbohydrates is to fuel our body for everything that it does as just like a car our bodies will break down if they do not have a sufficient amount of food.

When the carbohydrates are consumed the body will automatically convert the carbs into sugar and this will then trigger the production of insulin that is imperative for certain bodily processes. Insulin can also trigger the storage of fat, which is why some people that consume too many carbs will put on weight easily. This can be down to having a metabolic problem though. As much as carbohydrates are required it is important not to consume too many as that can result in such weight gain. Just like counting calories to lose or maintain weight, keeping a close eye on the carbohydrates that you are consuming each day and then adjusting this amount accordingly can be a good way to keep control of your weight.

As we have already mentioned, you are much better off eating the natural sources of carbohydrates as opposed to refined foods because they are better for you and provide you with many essential nutrients that your body needs on a day to day basis.

Eating protein is a good way to combat any weight gain from consuming carbohydrates because it contributes to muscle gain that helps to burn fat. More protein and less carbohydrates can be a great idea. If you want to know 'why do we need carbohydrates?' then you may be interested in the following list of things that can happen if we do not consume enough of them.

Without the consumption of carbohydrates then our bodies will lack in energy and this can result in the following:

  • Tiredness
  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion
  • Lack of stamina
  • Break down of some of our vital systems such as our immune system, nervous system, digestive system, cardiac system or our neurological system
  • The body will not be able to get rid of waste material and toxins (fiber, which is a form of carbohydrate, is important for this as it is a natural aperient that cleanses your intestines, for more information on high fiber foods click here)

The main functions of carbohydrates are:

  • Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy
  • Carbohydrates help to form the structure of living organisms due to their contribution to cell structure
  • Carbohydrates are a food and energy storage source in our bodies
  • Carbohydrates act as an anticoagulant which means they prevent intravascular clotting
  • In the form of fiber, carbs cleanse our digestive systems.

More than carbs and complex carbs!

We hope that you have found our page on carbohydrates in food useful and that you are now fully aware of the answer to the questions 'what are carbohydrates?' and 'what is a carbohydrate?'. There is plenty more to our site than just simple and complex carbohydrate foods lists. Check out all of the great information that we have on calories in food and also our page on how many calories you should eat a day to lose or maintain weight. We also hope you are now aware of why we need carbohydrates and that there are many other nutritional benefits of eating carbohydrates in food.


Disclaimer: The text on calories in foods.com is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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