Carbohydrates are found in many foods, including breads, pasta, legumes, fruits, vegetables, pastries, cookies, and soft drinks. Sugars, starches and fibers are all carbohydrates. Your body breaks sugar and starch molecules apart into the individual units, then absorbs them for energy. Fiber is not digested, but it’s beneficial for your digestive tract.
Carbohydrates provide fuel you use as energy for physical activity, brain function and organ function. Consuming too much carbohydrate may contribute to obesity because carbohydrates that aren’t used for energy are converted to fat. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the best sources of carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains because they also contain phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Eating carbohydrates stimulates the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that impacts mood and appetite. According to Judith Wurtman, a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, serotonin improves your mood and helps you feel full so you don’t overeat. She also explains that carbohydrates work best to trigger serotonin production when you eat little or no protein at the same.
Help You Sleep
A bedtime snack of low-fiber carbohydrates may help you get to sleep, according to a the authors of a small study published in 2007 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." Healthy subjects who were given a snack with a high glycemic index fell asleep faster than subjects given a snack with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index measures the speed of carbohydrate digestion and absorption. The higher the number, the more quickly the carbohydrate is absorbed.
Fiber, also called bulk or roughage, is the part of plant-based foods your body doesn’t digest. It’s necessary for regular bowel function and may also decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to MayoClinic.com. Insoluble fiber found in grains, nuts and vegetables increases stool bulk, making it easier to pass. Soluble fiber found in oats, barley, legumes and psyllium adds moisture to the stool and also helps to reduce cholesterol levels by binding to bile salts.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: High Glycemic Index Carbohydrate Meals Shorten Sleep Onset
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber - Essential for a Healthy Diet
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology News: Carbs Are Essential for Effective Dieting and Good Mood, Wurtman Says
Sheri Kay has a master's degree in human nutrition. She's the co-author of two books and has been a nutrition and fitness writer since 2004.