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Carbs are the main energy source for the human body. As the name "carbohydrate" suggests, carbs are a mixture of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates are manufactured inside plants from carbon dioxide in the air and water, under the influence of sunlight. (A process called photosynthesis).

Carbohydrate Intake

The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate there is no set RDA for carbs, although they are an important part of a healthy diet - both for energy content and nutritional value. Most dietitians and nutritionists advise a daily carb intake of between 45-65 percent of total calories. Dietary fiber - the non-digestible type of carbohydrate has been shown to have a number of beneficial health effects, including decreased risk of coronary heart disease and improvement in laxation. There is also interest in the relationship between diets containing fiber-rich foods and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The RDA for fiber is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Both sugary and starchy carbohydrate supply energy to the body in the form of glucose, which is the only fuel source for red blood cells and is the preferred energy source for the brain, central nervous system, placenta, and fetus.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are classified in various ways.

(1) Carbs can be classified into types according to their molecular or biological structure. The two main types are Simple Carbohydrates (or "simple sugars"), like Monosaccharides and Disaccharides; and Complex Carbohydrates (or "complex sugars"), like Oligosaccharides and Polysaccharides.

(2) Carbs are sometimes classified into sugars, starches and dietary fiber (aka. non-starch polysaccharides). Generally, sugars are "simple carbs", while starches and dietary fiber are "complex carbs". But fructose (fruit sugar) is a simple carb that behaves like a complex carb!

(3) Carbs can be divided according to how fast they are digested, and thus how quickly they raise our blood sugar levels. The Glycemic Index divides carbohydrate-containing foods into high, medium or low glycemic index foods.

(4) Carbs can be classified into refined or unrefined carbohydrates, depending on how "processed" they are by food manufacturers.
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