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What Are Total Carbohydrates?

By Valerie Liles

Carbohydrates are composed of the chemical elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These elements provide us with calories by producing heat in the body when carbon from food unites with oxygen in the bloodstream. Carbohydrates also help with protein and fat metabolism, as fats need carbohydrates in order to be utilized. Our bodies are essentially “furnaces” which need carbohydrates for fuel.

Energy Source

All foods fall into three macronutrient categories of either carbohydrates, proteins or fats. You need all three to function properly, plus a list of vitamins and minerals called micronutrients. Based on the U.S. Department of Agricultural dietary guidelines, carbohydrates are your prime source of energy and a prime source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Carbohydrates are found almost exclusively in plant foods, with a few exceptions.

Nutrition Facts Label

The nutrition facts label found on all packaged foods lists the serving size, calories, fats, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates and proteins. The term "Total Carbohydrates" encompasses the total amount of dietary fiber, sugars and other carbohydrates. You may also see “additional carbohydrates," which are carbs that can not be classified as fiber or sugars. These carbohydrates are usually nonnutritive fillers such as emulsifiers or other added ingredients.

Dietary Fiber

Fiber, a carbohydrate, is an important food for promoting health. Fiber can either be soluble or insoluble, and is often referred to as roughage, which is resistant to the body’s digestive enzymes. Fiber also retains water which prevents constipation. As a result, only a relatively small amount of fiber is actually digested or metabolized. Instead, most of it moves through the gastrointestinal tract, picking up toxins and impurities, and eventually ends up as stool. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 60 percent of your total daily calories should come from carbohydrates, which includes 25 grams of fiber.

Sugars

All sugars and starches are carbohydrates. When you see the listing “sugars” under "Total Carbohydrates" on the nutrition facts label, this refers to how much sugar is in each serving. Added sugars include white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners added to foods in processing. This value can also include the sugars naturally occurring in the ingredients such as fructose from added fruit, or lactose, which is found in milk.

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