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Carbohydrates – Your body’s favorite energy source

Carbohydrates – Your body’s favorite energy source

Last week I tackled proteins, so today I want to continue taking a close look at another macronutrient, carbohydrates.  Carbs have really gotten a bad rap lately.  Between the obsession for the keto diet and gluten-free becoming trendy, they’ve truly suffered, and many people have unnecessarily eliminated these foods from their diet.   But if you take a closer look at the nutrition in these foods, there are way more benefits to eating most carbohydrates than avoiding them.  I am also sharing one of my favorite pasta recipes today made with whole wheat pasta and lentils. The recipe is loaded with protein, fiber and lots of other nutrients.

What makes a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are a nutrient group in foods that come from plants and include sugars, starches and fiber.  There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.  Simple carbohydrates are broken down by the body for energy quickly.  They include sugars that naturally occur in food such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, and those that are added to food such as candy, table sugar, soft drinks and baked goods.

Complex carbohydrates include starches and fiber.  These carbs are made up of longer chains of sugars and require the body more time to digest and breakdown to glucose so the body can use it for energy.  Food such as rice, legumes, potatoes, bread and pasta are found in this group of carbohydrates.

But in most cases, except for added sugar, these carbohydrates provide us with more than just energy.  These foods are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

Should carbohydrates be avoided?

Carbohydrates do not make you fat.  The primary factor leading to weight gain is exceeding the number of calories your body needs for energy each day.  Any calories consumed that are not converted to energy by the body are broken down and stored as fat on the body.  That means that it’s possible to get fat eating any combination of food.

Carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables provide the body with many other health benefits other than just being a source of carbohydrates.  So, with that in mind, including these types of foods is actually key for your body to get the variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to be healthy.  These foods are what I call nutrient dense, meaning they provide a higher number of nutrients for fewer calories.  You simply get way more bang for your buck when you eat these foods.

Limits on added sugar

However, added sugar such as that found in sugary beverages, candy and processed foods should be eaten sparingly.  According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, published by the USDA and based on the most recent scientific evidence, added sugar should be limited to 10% of your daily caloric intake.  That means for a moderately active woman, 26-50 not trying to lose weight, she shouldn’t eat more than 200 calories of added sugar a day, or no more than 50 grams of added sugar.  One 16-oz sugar sweetened soda exceeds that mark at 52 grams of sugar.

Why eat whole grains?

The main reason behind the recommendation to eat whole grains when choosing grain products is that they simply provide more fiber.  If your food choices consistently include white rice, white bread and regular pasta then you may not be reaching the suggested fiber intake for the day.  A whole grain includes the entire kernel of the grain made up of the bran, the germ and the endosperm.  Each part of this grain provides different nutrients.  During the processing of the grains that result in white flour and white rice, some of these parts of the grain are stripped away, and the food loses some of its nutrition. You can certainly still enjoy these foods but mix them up by including brown rice, whole wheat pasta and cereals/breads made from whole grain in your diet as well.

What whole grains should you eat?

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends consuming 6 ounces of grains of day with whole grains making up at least half of this amount.

Commonly found whole grains

  • Whole wheat
  • Whole Oats
  • Oatmeal
  • Rolled Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Wild Rice
  • Bulgur
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa

If you really want to look for ways to integrate whole grains into your diet, and you are quite adventurous there are many other types of lesser known grains that are interesting to cook with and taste great as well.  For a more complete list of whole grains, visit the this page for the Whole Grains Council.

The bottom-line

Your diet should include a variety of healthy proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.  This includes eating carbohydrates and a healthy diet certainly should include bread, pasta, fruit and potatoes.  Perhaps, you decide to eat them less sparingly than other vegetables and fruits that are lower in grams of carbohydrates, but just remember these foods do have a place in healthy living.

Lentil and Mushroom Whole Wheat Pasta Bowl

October 22, 2018
: 4
: 20 min
: 30 min
: 50 min
: Easy

Comfort food goodness combining the earthy flavors of mushrooms and lentils, served up with whole wheat pasta


  • 3/4 cups brown or green lentils
  • 1 pound mushrooms
  • 1 cup of fresh basil leaves
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1# Mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Step 1 Rinse lentils then cover with 2 cups salted water and bring to a boil. When they reach a boil, turn down the heat and allow them to simmer until done, usually 30 minutes or so.
  • Step 2 While lentils are cooking, slice mushrooms, mince garlic and chop the basil. Begin to heat the water to cook pasta.
  • Step 3 When lentils are done remove them from the heat and set aside. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to instructions on the package. When pasta is done, first save about 1 cup of hot pasta water and then place the pasta into a strainer to drain off remaining water.
  • Step 4 Heat olive oil in sauce pan. When heated add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Then add mushrooms and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Last add lentils and salt and pepper to taste. Once everything is heated through, add pasta and toss to coat. If it seems a bit dry, add some of the pasta water until it gets to the right consistency.
  • Step 5 Serve it up topped with shredded parmesan and fresh basil.
  • Step 6

Carbohydrates - Your body's favorite energy source

**Nutritional Facts were calculated using recipe input in MyFitnessPal.  No data was available on Vitamin D in this recipe.

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