Carbs (short for carbohydrates) are nutrients found in most food. They provide energy (fuel) to the body. This is different than proteins , which are generally used for growth, maintenance, and repair of tissues and muscles. Excess of carbs (energy that the body doesn’t need) is stored as fat, which the body uses later when needed.
Carbs are broken down during digestion into glucose, which is absorbed by the blood stream. Glucose, with insulin, can then enter cells to provide them with energy, allowing them to work.
There are different types of carbs:
- Starches (also called complex carbs) are slowly digested and thus slowly absorbed in the blood stream.
- Sugars (also called simple carbs) are digested much faster and hence elevate blood glucose faster. Eating a lot of sugars will result in a glucose spike in the blood stream, which is not desirable.
- Fibers are not digested and do not impact blood glucose.
- Sugar Alcohols (not related to alcohol itself) are found in “sugar free” products. Most of them impact glucose.
Each food contains a variable amount of starch, sugars and fibers. As a result, a given food can raise blood glucose slowly or quickly depending on the exact amount of starch, sugar and fiber is contains.
It is preferable to consume complex carbs over simple carbs, to ensure that insulin (natural or injected) can keep the level of glucose to a healthy level throughout digestion. The glycemic index helps identifying food with higher content of complex carbs.
Nutrition labels do not list starches. If you’re quick with numbers, subtract sugars, fibers and sugar alcohols (if listed) from the total carbs to estimate the amount of complex carbs (the higher the better).