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Common Nutritional Terms Defined – Installment 2 – Carbohydrates and Carotenoids

by Michele on January 25, 2013

Nutrition 101Carbohydrates

What are carbohydrates and what do they do for my body?

One of the three main groups of nutrients the body needs along with protein and fats, carbohydrates are one of the primary dietary components the body needs in order to function.  Carbs come primarily in the form of sugars, starches and fiber.  Once carbohydrates are consumed, the digestive system converts the sugars and starches into sugar molecules, which enter the bloodstream and provide energy for cells and tissue.  Whole, minimally processed foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy are the best types of carbohydrates because the fiber in these foods helps slow sugar absorption, resulting in an even, sustained level of energy. Whole grains in particular, such as whole wheat products, brown rice, oats and quinoa help us maintain a consistent energy level and feel full longer.  Heavily processed foods, including sugary cereals, white flour and potato chips contain little fiber; and their starches and sugars rapidly turn into glucose in the body, spiking blood sugar, which can cause energy levels to quickly plummet and hunger to return sooner than we’d like.   Excess glucose – what the body doesn’t need for immediate energy or for future reserves in the form of glycogen – turns to fat. In short, high quality carbs in moderation can help with healthy weight maintenance and weight loss.  Low quality carbs can lead to weight gain and blood sugar issues.


What are carotenoids and what do they do for my body?

Carotenoids, colorful plant pigments some of which the body can turn into vitamin A, are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and act to enhance immune response to infections.  The best known carotenoid is carotene, from which the group gets it’s name.  Carotenoids protect cells from free radicals, enhance the function of the immune system and assists with reproduction function.

What foods contain carotenoids?

Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, papaya, bell pepper and tomatoes.  To best reap the benefits of carotenoids, these veggies should either be eaten raw or lightly steamed.

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