What Are Carbohydrates

carbohydrate is a biomolecule consisting of carbon  hydrogen and oxygen atoms, usually with a hydrogen–oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 (as in water) and thus with the empirical formula Cm(H2O)n (where m may or may not be different from n). However, not all carbohydrates conform to this precise stoichiometric definition (e.g., uronic acids, deoxy-sugars such as fucose), nor are all chemicals that do conform to this definition automatically classified as carbohydrates (e.g. formaldehyde and acetic acid).

Victoria Middleton

Victoria Middleton

RD
Registered Dietitian
New York City, NY
Yumna Khan

Yumna Khan

RD
Registered Dietitian
Burlington, ON
Margarita deGraaf

Margarita deGraaf

RD
Registered Dietitian
Burlington, ON

Sarah Blunden, P.Dt, CDE, CPT, Professional Dietitian, talks about how to eat healthy carbohydrates for a good energy sources and improved glycemic control.

Quiz: Do You Understand Carbohydrates?

Test your knowledge by answering the following questions:

Questions
True
False
1

The food group known as other contains things like cookies and candies.

Explanation:
There are different food groups that contain carbohydrates, such as grains and starches, fruits and vegetables and dairy products. They're also found in a food group called other, which contains foods such as cookies and candies.
2

The brain does not use carbohydrates.

Explanation:
Carbohydrates are our main fuel and source of energy, and even the brain uses carbohydrates as its source of energy. During digestion, sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars and absorbed into the bloodstream. They are then known as blood sugar (blood glucose).
3

Short-chain carbohydrates can cause a spike in blood sugar.

Explanation:
Your body will digest and absorb short-chain carbohydrates more quickly, which can cause a spike in the blood sugar. Longer-chain carbohydrates take the body longer to digest and absorb, causing less of an effect on the blood sugar.
4

There are four types of carbohydrate.

Explanation:
There are three types of carbohydrate: sugar, starch and fibre.
5

Approximately half the food on your plate should be carbohydrates.

Explanation:
Approximately a quarter of the food on your plate should be carbohydrates, amounting to about one cup, or a fist-sized serving. Look for the carbohydrate content - broken down into things like starches, fibre and added sugars - of packaged foods on the label.
(Answer all questions to activate)

Sarah Ware, B.Sc.(Hons), RD, CDE, discusses Glycemic Index and Blood Glucose Levels

Healthy Carbohydrates for Glycemic Control

Carbohydrates are starches, fibres and sugars that we can find in different foods. So, there are different food groups that contain carbohydrates, such as our grains and starches, fruits, some vegetables, and dairy and milk.

We also find them in another food group called other. So, this is usually cookies, candies, things like that. Carbohydrates are actually our main fuel and source of energy, and even the brain will use carbohydrates as its source of energy.

In carbohydrates, we find a lot of vitamins, minerals and fibre. So, fibre has a lot of benefit for our body. It can actually help lower our cholesterol levels. It’s very important for the health of our intestines and our digestion. Best of all, it can even help with management of diabetes.

There are different types of carbohydrates, such as short-chain carbohydrates, so these are also called rapid-acting carbohydrates. Meaning that the body will digest them and absorb them quickly or faster, which can actually cause a spike in the blood sugar. Some examples would be juice, white bread and sugar.

Then we have longer-chain carbohydrates, so this takes the body longer to digest and absorb, causing less of an effect on the blood sugar. Examples would be legumes, oats, barley and berries, for example.

When you’re looking for foods, let’s say out in the grocery store, and you’re reading labels, a really important thing to look for is the amount fibre. So, when you choose products that have higher fibre, these are going to take longer to digest.

Carbohydrates can play a very important role in diabetes management. Aiming to choose high-fibre carbohydrates will help in slowing down the digestion, causing less spikes in blood glucose. Also, when choosing carbohydrates, we’re looking at the quality – so meaning high fibre – but also the quantity.

For example, on your plate, a quarter of your plate should be the quantity of carbohydrates, which could equate to about one cup, or a fist. So, for example at a meal, having a cup of cooked barley, or a cup of cooked lentils, for example, on your plate could be your portion of carbohydrates.

Here are some tips: aiming to put more vegetables and legumes on your plate. Looking at the quality of the carbohydrates, so high fibre, and also keeping an eye on the quantity. As you increase your fibre, don’t forget to increase your water as well.

And if you’d like more information, reach out to a Registered Dietitian or a Professional Dietitian, as well as your healthcare team.

Presenter: Ms. Sarah Blunden, Registered Dietitian, Ville Saint-Laurent, QC

Local Practitioners: Registered Dietitian

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