Confused About Carbs?

If you get cross-eyed thinking about carbohydrates, that’s understandable. They can be, quite literally, both simple and complex. They abound in snacks that nobody would call healthy but also appear in foods considered essential to good health. “It gets a little confusing,” said Andrew Odegaard, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, Irvine. Even experts disagree on some aspects of how carbohydrates function.

To understand how carbs work in your diet, it helps to know a few details. “When people think of carbohydrates, what they’re thinking of can vary a lot,” said Odegaard, whose work has included studies on diet, diabetes and heart disease. But from the most basic perspective, a carbohydrate is a molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. When digested, carbs are converted into blood glucose, or sugar, which provide fuel for cells throughout the body.

“For most people, it’s the fundamental source of energy in their diet,” Odegaard said. Carbohydrates often have been classified as either “simple” – also known as “refined” – or “complex” based on how quickly the body turns them into blood glucose.

Excerpted from American Heart Association

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