What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates include sugars (sucrose, fructose and lactose) and starch. The body breaks down most carbohydrates into glucose. Certain carbohydrates are metabolized the same way, for example, white bread, jellybeans or saltine crackers. Regardless of whether the carbohydrate is a sugar (jellybeans) or a starch (white bread), glucose will enter the blood stream at the same rate. Nutrients that do affect the rate at which glucose enters the blood include fiber, fat and protein. All three nutrients slow down carbohydrate digestions and delay/mute the increase in blood glucose.

Carbohydrates play an important role. Not only do they provide energy in the form of glucose, but they also help your body use proteins more efficiently and metabolize fats properly.

The Truth About Carbs
Some meal plans make you think that all carbohydrates are off limits. The truth is that whether you have diabetes or not, some carbohydrates for example, 100% whole wheat bread - are simply better choices than others - such as a French cruller at your local donut shop.
Refined Carbs vs. Complex Carbs
Sugary foods high in refined, or processed, carbohydrates (table sugar, syrup, jelly and jam, for instance), are often lumped with carbohydrates naturally found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Thus, many people think all carbs can lead to weight gain. It is these refined carbohydrates in which processing removes any nutrients and fiber, and, in turn give all carbs a bad name.

You will often hear refined carbohydrates (like those found in crackers, candy, and other sweets) referred to as "empty calories" because they provide calories without other important nutrients. They also provide little or no dietary fiber, and they usually contain more calories due to added fat.

Refined foods have a high glycemic index - they cause a sudden and sharp increase in blood sugar. If the body does not use this blood sugar, it will store it as fat. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits have a lower glycemic index.

Naturally occurring carbohydrates (like those found in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits) provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Also, they usually contain fewer calories than foods with added sugar.

Bread, crackers and pasta made with whole wheat flour are not the sameas those made with white flour. Those made with whole wheat flour contain more nutrition and fiber and sometimes fewer calories

What are Fats?
Fat is grouped into two categories, saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Fat provides insulation for nerve cells, imparts warmth, balances hormones, keeps skin and arteries supple, lubricates joints and is part of every cell.

Your body can make the less-desirable saturated fats but not the important unsaturated fats. You must eat unsaturated fats every day or else your body cannot function. Your body needs essential fats to:


  • Maintain healthy cell walls.
  • Stabilize cholesterol metabolism.
  • Regulate important body processes such as blood pressure and clotting.
  • Carry fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.
Saturated vs. Unsaturated Fat
As with carbohydrates, fats come with a "good news/bad news" story. Here is the scoop on the four different types of fats:

Saturated fats (less desirable) raise LDL-C - low density lipoprotein cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol - in the blood. Saturated fats likely cause a host of problems, from heart trouble to weight gain. Keep these "fat rules of thumb" in mind to help you make healthier choices.

  • Generally, the more unsaturated a fat is, the more likely it is to be a liquid at room temperature. Conversely, saturated fats remain solid at room temperature
  • Foods from animal sources contain more saturated fats, and foods from vegetable sources contain more unsaturated fats.

Transaturated (Trans fats) (less desirable) also raise LDL-C. You`ll find trans fats in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated fats.
However, you can now look for trans fats on food labels.

Monounsaturated fats (more desirable) can positively affect cholesterol ratios.

  • Avocados and olive oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated fats (more desirable) are necessary for all bodily functions.

  • Most nuts, vegetable oils and fish oils are good sources of polyunsaturated fats.

    As the most concentrated source of calories in the foods we eat, fats enhance the taste of food and make you feel full. However, because each gram of fat yields 9 calories, the same amount of fat supplies almost twice as many calories as proteins or carbohydrates.

What is Protein?
Protein plays an all-important role in your body. It accounts for one-fifth of your total body weight, including a hefty portion of your muscles, bones, and skin.

What makes protein so important? Protein:


  • Builds teeth, muscles, bones, skin and blood.
  • Helps with growth and helps repair your body
  • Regulates body processes.
  • Carries nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.
  • Fights disease by increasing antibodies and strengthening the immune system.
  • Provides a source of energy.

All protein contains amino acids, which include nine essential amino acids and 13 non-essential ones. Your body can manufacture the non-essential amino acids from the food you eat, but not the essential ones. You must eat proteins that supply these essential amino acids often or your body cannot function properly.

Not All Protein Is Created Equal
Two kinds of protein exist. Complete proteins contain all essential amino acids, while incomplete proteins do not. In general, complete proteins include animal proteins such as meat, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
Incomplete proteins include vegetable proteins such as vegetables, beans (legumes), grains, fruits, and nuts.

However, you can combine two incomplete proteins so that they complement each other and provide the equivalent of a complete protein. For instance, you could eat navy bean soup and a couple of sesame crackers, which would combine legumes and seeds. Or, by combining an incomplete protein (macaroni) with a complete protein (fat-free or low-fat cheddar cheese), you can meet the need for essential amino acids while lowering your intake of animal fat and cholesterol.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Cheese, Milk

Vegetables, Grains, Legumes

Combine two incomplete proteins to make a
complete protein.

Incomplete + Incomplete = Complete
Vegetables + Grains = Complete Protein


Recognizing Carbohydrates



Reviewed by Clara Schneider MS, RD, RN, CDE, LDN - 05/13