New Year, New Diet – The basics of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the perfect source of energy for the body. They can be converted much more easily (than proteins or fats) into glucose. Which is the form of sugar transported and used by the body.

Carbohydrates are often thought as the primary source of energy for the body. However, this isn’t strictly true. It depends on what the body is doing to determine the best energy source. During normal daily activities, both fats and carbohydrates contribute significantly to the energy requirements. As activity intensity may increase, the contribution of fats decreases and carbohydrates do become the main energy source.

Although it may be a perfect energy source, a diet too high in carbohydrates can upset the delicate balance of the body’s blood sugar levels, resulting in energy and mood fluctuations (we can all relate!). The best way to balance carbs is to maintain an intake of proteins, a little fat and some fibre.

All carbohydrates are made up of saccharides molecules. These can form 3 different types of carbohydrates

  1. Simple carbohydrates

  2. Complex carbohydrates

  3. Non-starch polysaccharides (NSP)

Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates have a very basic structure and usually only contain one or two units of sugar. The energy contained in these foods can’t be released without specific vitamins and minerals. In particular the B vitamin, as the body can’t utilise carbohydrates without them.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbs generally aren’t sweet to taste like simple carbs. They are often described as starch, due to their long-complicated branches of glucose molecules. Multiple molecules of glucose are referred to as polysaccharides. Once the polysaccharides are broken down, they are absorbed into the bloodstream, or metabolised accordingly.


More commonly known as fibre, NSP is another essential part of a healthy diet. Fibre consists of indigestible plant material, which can often be found in fruit, vegetables, grains and beans. Fibre doesn’t provide any energy to the body, however it aids the transportation of foods through the digestive tract by bulking out the food and faeces for ease of movement. There are two different types of fibres:

Insoluble- often found on the outer layer of plants, such as rice, wheat, fruit and vegetable skins.

Soluble- often found on the inner part of a plant. These include: beans, broccoli and citrus fruits. It has been suggested soluble fibre reduces cholesterol by binding with fats in the digestive tract to carry them out in stools.


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