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Complex Carbohydrates Nutrition Database Nutrition Dictionary: A Comprehensive Source of Nutritional Terms Carbohydrates Database Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are a very important part of diet. They have become the food of choice for health conscience individuals for a number of reasons.

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates should make up about 55 percent of the calories in our daily diet, with fat making up 15 - 20% and protein making up the rest. In a 3, 000 calorie diet, that would mean carbohydrates should make up more than 1, 500 hundred of those calories. A large, but essential number.

Complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides, are made mostly of long strands of simple sugars. They are found in grains, fruits, legumes (peas and beans), and other vegetables. Complex carbohydrates include three types of dietary fiber - cellulose, hemicellulose and gums - and starches.

A single starch molecule may contain from 300 to 1,000 or more sugar units. The giant molecules are packed side by side in a plant root or seed, providing energy for the plant.

All starches are plant materials. Cereal grains, such as wheat, rice and corn, are rich sources of starch, constituting a large part of the world's food supply, generally in the form of breads and pastas. Starches are also found in potatoes and legumes.

Starchy foods, once avoided by dieters as fattening, are actually a good source of energy for those who want to lose weight. Many people think that starchy foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta are high in calories. They aren't - until the bread is thickly buttered, the potatoes generously topped with sour cream, and the macaroni mixed with cream and cheese sauce. Starches (and proteins) provide only four calories per gram, while fat provides nine calories per gram. Without the toppings, or with only moderate amounts, complex carbohydrate foods can be less fattening than animal-protein foods that naturally contain fat.

Dietary Fiber

Along with starches, fiber - the other important category of complex carbohydrates - is also gaining popularity for health reasons. (Glycogen is another type of complex carbohydrate, but one that is not of major importance as a nutrient. It's found in small amounts in animal tissue.) And like starches, dietary fiber is found abundantly in plants, especially in the outer layers of cereal grains and the fibrous parts of fruits, legumes, and other vegetables. Carbohydrates For Health

Some athletes today are loading up on complex carbohydrates in order to increase glycogen (animal carbohydrate) stores in muscles. Building glycogen reserves may improve endurance in some activities, such as running marathons.

Diebetics also may benefit from a diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat and sugar, according to the American Dietetic Association. Some researchers believe that dietary fiber improves the ability of diabetics to process blood sugar. Complex Carbohydrates

Baked potatoes are also making their way into the homes of nine-to-fivers who want a quick but warm and nutritious dinner. Microwave ovens can turn out a baked potato in a matter of minutes instead of an hour, a discovery that delighted early microwave users. Some Good Sources of Starch and Fiber

Good Sources of Starch

(1) Breads, both whole-grain and white

(2) Breakfast cereals, cooked and ready-to-eat

(3) Flours, whole-grain and white

(4) Pastas, such as macaroni and spaghetti

(5) Barley and rice

(6) Legumes - dried peas, beans and lentils

(7) Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, butter beans, corn, potatoes, sweet peas, lima beans, and navy beans

(8) Good Sources of Fiber

(9) Whole-grain breads, other grain bakery products

(10) Whole-grain cereals, cooked and ready-to-eat

(11) Legumes - kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and split peas

(12) Fruits, especially the skins and edible seeds

(13) Nuts and seeds

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