The fuel for our organism
Carbohydrates are among the most important nutrients, because they provide the body with the “fuel” for all its vital functions. They are widely present in all plant foods, except in oils, in different proportions in different food groups. On the other hand they are not present in animal foods, except in very small quantities, for example in the form of lactose (the sugar of milk) or glycogen from the storage of muscle tissues of animals.
They are also called Glucides and they are divided in two big families: – complex carbohydrates, among which starch is the form that can be used by man; they are mainly found in cereals and legumes; – simple carbohydrates, also called sugars, which are mainly found in fruits.
Carbohydrates represent the main energetic and nutritional source of any healthy diet and they should provide up to 60-65% of the daily caloric intake. This means that for our organism it is far preferable to obtain energy from carbohydrates (especially from complex ones) rather than from fats, or, even worse, from proteins. On average they have an energy content of 4 Kcal per gram.
Simple carbohydrates or sugars
They are mainly contained in fruits, or present as added sugars in sugary foods, and provide “ready” energy, immediately available to our body. They should not be consumed in excess, because the intake of sugars causes abrupt increases in blood sugar and leads to feel the need to consume other sweet foods.
Cereals are particularly rich in them, but legumes and vegetables also contain good quantities. They are the most useful for our organism because, compared to their volume, they contain few calories and therefore allow to reach the sense of satiety without exceeding the calories of the diet. This is even more true for carbohydrates derived from whole grains, which are richer in fiber (as well as many other nutrients).
Complex carbohydrates are formed by combining simple carbohydrates: through this process, the food containing them loses its sweet taste. Contrary to what happens with simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates are absorbed slowly by the intestine, allowing blood sugar levels to remain stable for several hours.
This happens because, in order to be used by the body, they must be broken down and transformed into simple sugars by the digestive process and this takes time. The presence of fiber slows down the process even more, which is one more reason why whole grains are to be preferred.
Percentage of carbohydrates in vegetable foods
Carbohydrates are found in all vegetables, except oils, in the following proportions:
- Grain cereals (barley, spelt, rice, wheat, rye, oats, etc.): 75% of their caloric content is made up of complex carbohydrates.
- Pseudocereals (wheat sareceno, quinoa and amaranth): contain 70-75% of complex carbohydrates in relation to calories.
- Pasta and bread, made from the flour of ground grain cereals: 70% of calories come from complex carbohydrates.
- Baked goods, such as bacon, crackers, rusks, etc.: contain 70% complex carbohydrates.
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc.): contain fewer complex carbohydrates than grains, but still a high amount, about 50% of the calories.
- Vegetables (vegetables): again, 50% of the calories come from complex carbohydrates.
- Fresh fruit: it is a source of simple carbohydrates and contains a very high percentage of them compared to its caloric content, as much as 90%.