Carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients that comprise our diet, protein and fat being the remaining two. Carbohydrates are categorised by their chemistry but there are three types present in food: sugar, starch and fibre. Carbohydrates are important for health, providing energy and prevention against potential diseases. Like protein, carbohydrates provide four kilocalories (kcal) of energy per gram consumed.
Carbohydrate requirements will vary from person to person depending on factors such as age, gender and physical activity level . As outlined by the British Nutrition Foundation the Dietary Reference Value for carbohydrate is approximately 50% of an individual's total daily energy intake. Free sugars, i.e. the added sugar already in food and drinks or white table sugar added to hot drinks throughout the day should be limited to no more than 5% of an individual's total daily energy intake.
Research has concluded that in general we consume higher than the recommended 5%. There is evidence to suggest that this has contributed to obesity and related diseases. As a result, in April 2018, the UK Government introduced a sugar tax to the soft drink industry to try and tackle the obesity epidemic. Read our article on food labelling to understand how to minimise free sugars in your diet.
Disadvantages of Inadequate Intake
Prolonged low carbohydrate diets may have an affect physically and mentally. In general, carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the diet and also maintain blood glucose levels. In the short term, low intakes may cause headaches, fatigue, sugar cravings and low mood. Long term, immune function may be compromised affecting the ability of a person to fight off disease and infection.
Dietary Carbohydrate Sources
Carbohydrate is found in many food types and is widely available. According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008 -2011) the top three sources of daily carbohydrate in the average UK adult diet is from white bread (11.8%), fruit (5.9%) and soft drinks (5.7%)
Wholegrain or wholewheat carbohydrate sources will contribute to daily fibre intake and help maintain blood glucose levels. Examples include wholegrain rice, wholewheat pasta and wholegrain bread. Fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables can provide carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals. Cereals offer a good source of carbohydrates but it is important to be aware of the sugar quantity.
In conclusion, carbohydrates are important to facilitate health and well being. Diets restricting carbohydrates may compromise an individual's mental and physical health.