You've probably seen ads for low-carb foods and diets, but kids and adults need
carbohydrates (say: kar-bo-HI-draytz). Most foods contain carbohydrates,
which the body breaks down into simple sugars — the major source of energy for
What Are Carbohydrates?
There are two major types of carbohydrates (or carbs) in foods: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates: These are also called simple sugars. They're
found in refined sugars, like the white sugar you see in a sugar bowl. If you have
a lollipop, you're eating simple carbs. But you'll also find simple sugars in more
nutritious foods, such as fruit and milk. It's healthier to get your simple sugars
from foods like these. Why? Because sugar isn't added to them and they also contain
vitamins, fiber, and important nutrients like calcium. A lollipop has lots of added
sugar and doesn't contain important nutrients.
Complex carbohydrates: These are also called starches. Starches
include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta, and rice. As with simple sugars,
some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others. Refined (say: ree-FIND)
grains, such as white flour and white rice, have been processed, which removes nutrients
and fiber. But unrefined grains still contain these vitamins
and minerals. They're also
rich in fiber, which helps your digestive
system work well. Fiber helps you feel full, so you're less likely to overeat.
A bowl of oatmeal fills you up better than sugary candy with the same amount of caloriesl.
So which type of carbs should you eat? Both can be part of a healthy diet.
How Does the Body Use Carbs?
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, which are absorbed
into the bloodstream. As the sugar level rises in your body, the pancreas releases
a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where the sugar can
be used as an energy source.
When this process goes fast — as with simple sugars — you're more likely
to feel hungry again soon. When it goes more slowly, as with a whole-grain food, you'll
be satisfied longer. These types of complex carbs give you energy over a longer period
The carbs in some foods (mostly those with a lot of simple sugars) make the blood
sugar level rise more quickly than others. Scientists have been studying whether eating
foods that cause big jumps in blood sugar may be related to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
You're probably already on the right track if you're limiting simple sugars (such
as candy) and eating more complex carbs (like vegetables, oatmeal, and whole-grain