Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s worth repeating: carbohydrates are key!  Recent trends may lead you to believe otherwise, since low-carb diets have been popular weight-loss techniques in recent decades. But don’t be fooled into avoiding carbs altogether. After reading this week’s Focus Point, you’ll have a better understanding of the value carbs offer, instead of considering them the root of all dietary evil.

The food we eat provides three types of macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. While most foods contain some amount of each macronutrient, often one nutrient is dominant. Starchy foods (like bread, rice, pasta, and crackers) tend to be high in carbs. Carbs are also the main macronutrient in fruit, some dairy products, and of course sweets.

Carbs are important to our bodies for a variety of reasons. Not only are they the main source of energy, they are also the only form of energy that is used by our brains.  Also, carbs can build and repair other body cells. It’s no wonder that eliminating carbs from your diet can result in fatigue, excessive muscle soreness, and poor exercise tolerance.

Let’s take a closer look at the three types of carbohydrates: simple, complex, and fiber.

Simple carbs are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy.  They are found naturally in fruits and dairy products. They are also found in highly processed foods like soda, candy, cookies, and syrups.  Although these processed foods provide quick energy, they are low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The majority of carbs consumed should be complex or naturally-occurring, instead of from processed or refined foods.

Complex carbs come from sugar molecules that are strung together in long, complex chains.  They take longer to be absorbed and digested by the body, giving a sustained release of energy rather than a quick jolt.  Complex carbs are found in foods like whole grains, brown rice, and oatmeal.

Dietary fiber is not used for energy, but has many other benefits. Fiber can help regulate the digestive system, reduce circulating blood fats, and increase our feeling of fullness after eating.  High fiber foods include fruits with skin, whole grains like bran and oats, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

For this week and moving forward, focus on consuming brightly colored fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  The carbs you will get from these sources are not your enemy—they’re a vital part of a well-balanced, healthy, and delicious eating plan.

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