We've been hearing for years about the importance of carbohydrates in the diet. Some people believe you should stop eating them entirely, namely when you want to lose weight, while others believe that this type of food is truly the foundation of our health and energy. So, why exactly are they so important?
Basically, carbohydrates are important because they serve as the principal source of fuel for the body, and the preferred source of fuel by the body. To be more specific, it's really the glucose derived from carbohydrates that the body would rather use as its fuel on a day to day basis. Though this "simple sugar" can be obtained from other dietary sources, such as fats and proteins, it's actually the glucose from plant-based foods that is recommended to make up half of your daily caloric intake.
The glucose derived from carbohydrates is used to essentially get you from one place to another. It's like the gas in your car. Without it, your vehicle wouldn't move, or at least would come to a sputtering halt once the fumes were completely gone. That's what would happen to you if you were to deprive your body of carbohydrates all together. You would begin to get sluggish, tired and stop performing as you should. Anyone on a protein-based diet can attest to the change in their energy; they just don't have the same amount as people eating a diet rich in carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates to be specific, but we'll touch on that a little later).
Besides fueling your muscles, carbohydrates are also important in allowing your organs to properly function. This would also include one of the most important organs in your body -- the brain. Not to use the car analogy again, but without gas the engine would cease to operate, preventing the movement of the pistons, the rotation of the crankshaft, the operation of the valves or cylinders and so on. This idea coincides quite closely with the sluggishness you may feel in your body when denying or limiting your daily intake of carbohydrates. The same thing can happen in your brain, you may feel you're not thinking straight or you may have troubles concentrating. This can all stem from what you're putting (or not putting) in your body.
Fundamentally, there are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. While both provide energy to the body, their effects can be rather different. With simple carbohydrates, the glucose derived from this food source will give you a quick burst of energy, so to speak. This is because a carbohydrate of this type is processed more rapidly in the body, and for that reason, you'll also experience a faster decline -- otherwise known as a "crash." Complex carbohydrates undergo a much longer time in their digestion, which will produce much longer effects, and sustain the energy level of the organism that has ingested this type of provision. It is this type of carbohydrate that has been deemed "good," and should make up half of your daily caloric intake. Yet, not all simple "carbs" are bad "carbs."
Simple carbohydrates can actually be found in your fresh fruits, such as apples, oranges, pears, plums, grapefruits and berries, but are also readily found in your more processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, pastas, sodas, fruit juices and baked goods, hence the generalization that simple "carbs" are bad "carbs." Complex carbohydrates are generally the "best carbs," and they are found in products like whole-grain breads and pastas, vegetables and legumes. These types of carbohydrates should be the building blocks of your healthy diet.