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We often hear that carbohydrates are important as our body’s main source of energy. At the same time, we also hear carbohydrates being blamed for causing weight gain. To settle this issue, it is important to know that not all carbohydrates are created equal.

Carbohydrates as  major source of energy in the diet comprise around half the total calories and are manufactured mainly by plants. The family of dietary carbohydrate includes simple carbohydrates such as honey and sugars, and complex carbohydrates such as starches and dietary fiber. Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed in the small intestine that result to an increase in blood sugar and provide a quick boost of energy. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take longer to break down which means that there is no rapid spike in blood sugar.

Supplying the body’s cells with glucose for energy is the primary role of carbohydrates. Most importantly, the preferred energy source for brain cells, other nerve cells and developing red blood cells is glucose. With this, a person needs  to eat dietary carbohydrates to keep providing glucose to meet the body’s energy needs. For Filipinos aged 19 years and above, the recommended intake of carbohydrates is 55% to 75% of the total energy intake. The recommended energy intake of 1,930 kcal for females aged 19 to 29 years old should therefore have 1,060 kcal to 1,450 kcal of carbohydrates, or about 265 to 365 grams. Other information can be checked on The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (https://www.fnri.dost.gov.ph/index.php/tools-and-standard/philippine-dietary-reference-intakes-pdri).

Some might argue that its fine to skip carbohydrates since proteins can be converted to glucose to some extent. However, it is important to note that protein has a job of its own that no other nutrient can do. Fats can also take an alternative metabolic pathway, forming ketone bodies to provide an alternate fuel source during starvation. However, these can accumulate in the blood causing ketosis, which can disturb the body’s normal acid-base balance. Hence, the dietary recommendation is to have an adequate intake of carbohydrates as part of healthy eating.

With regards to issue of weight gain, if there is excess intake of carbohydrates, even after meeting the energy needs and filling the body stores to capacity, the body finds a way to manage the extra calories in which these are converted into fats.  Being physically active is the best way to burn the extra calories and to maintain energy balance.

Healthy sources of carbohydrates include whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain pasta and cereals; fruits like citrus fruits, melons, bananas; root crops like potatoes, camote, ubi and gabi; corn; legumes such as soybeans; and low-fat milk.

One effective strategy for weight loss especially among those whose excess calorie intake come mainly from added sugar, is limiting intake of foods and beverages high in added sugars such as sugar-sweetened beverages, ice-creams and pastries. Checking the nutrition labels of food products will be very helpful in selecting healthier food choices.

Furthermore, at this digital age where information can be accessed easily, ensuring the credibility of sources as well as critical thinking are a must especially when it comes to our nutrition and health. It is important to practice healthy eating by following the 10 Kumainments and Pinggang Pinoy for a well-balanced diet. - Denniese Sy