Combining physical activity and eating well not only helps us maintain a healthy body weight, it can decrease our risk for cardiovascular diseases as well as some cancers, improves your mood and energy levels and promotes better sleep. The health benefits are hard to ignore.
Whether you are training for a marathon or trying to loose weight, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. Carbohydrates are broken down by the digestive system into glucose (blood sugar), which can be used immediately or stored in your liver and muscles for when it is needed. Found in fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains such as pasta, oatmeal and bread, carbohydrates are the first choice of energy for the body and are the sole source of energy for your brain and red blood cells, they also play a key role in digestive health.
Carbohydrates are classified as either simple or complex, based on how quickly they are digested and absorbed by the body. A simple carbohydrate is made of one or two sugar molecules making them a quick source of energy because they are easily digested (found in candy, soft drinks, fruit juices, etc). Complex carbohydrates are made of three or more (often hundreds) sugar molecules strung together taking them longer to break down and are more health promoting as they provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.
How much carbohydrate do we need? The Institute of Medicine suggests an Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of 45-65% of total daily energy from carbohydrates. Breaking the numbers down, someone requiring 2000 kcals a day should consume 225-325g of carbohydate, and at 4 kcal per gram of carbohydrate that translates to 900-1300 kcals a day.
The key to a balanced diet is to eat a variety of foods in the right proportions. Choose carbohydrates wisely by limiting foods with added sugars, which are not only high in calories but also low in nutrition. Combine oatmeal topped with berries for a great start to the day, a quinoa salad for lunch and round the day out by pairing pasta with lean protein and vegetable packed tomato sauce for a nutritious supper.