Carbohydrates exist in three basic forms: sugar, fibre and starch. Sugars, the simplest of carbs, are molecule groups called either mono- or disaccharides, depending on their size. Sugars are rapidly absorbed and quickly pass into the bloodstream. Fibre, which is indigestible, is a more complex carb called a polysaccharide. Polysaccharides are longer chains of mono- or disaccharides and are sometimes called complex carbohydrates. Starch, also a polysaccharide, is digested by the body into glucose and used for energy or stored for later. All green plants make starch for energy storage. Foods with a high starch content are therefore very common.
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Most grains are starchy. Grains can be either "refined" or "whole." Refining removes the bran and the germ, both sources of fibre and nutrients, from the grain. Whole grains are minimally processed, or not at all. They tend to be high in fibre and vitamins B and E. Millet, quinoa, brown rice, oats, amaranth, corn, buckwheat, spelt, kamut and wheat are some examples of grains. We use grains to make bread, cakes and pastries, pasta and hot or cold cereal.
Legumes are sometimes said to be a complete food as they are rich in both protein and carbohydrates. Legumes contain much fibre and starch, but little sugar. The fibre content of legumes gives a feeling of fullness, and they are high in minerals such as potassium and magnesium. Some examples are: lentils, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, chick peas and peanuts. Legumes are easy to prepare and are delicious either cold or hot. They make good additions to soups, salads and casseroles.
Since plants commonly store energy as starch in their roots, several tubers and root vegetables are classified as starchy. The white potato, a root vegetable, is a favourite of many. Other starchy root vegetables include: sweet potatoes or yams, cassava, turnips, parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes. Winter squash, pumpkins and peas are non-root starchy vegetables. Tubers and root vegetables usually have a high mineral content; white potatoes for example are a good source of potassium. Potatoes, turnips and parsnips contain vitamin C. Colored vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash are rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants. Any of these starchy vegetables can be simply prepared by steaming or roasting and are tasty additions to any meal.
As fruit ripens, its starch becomes fruit sugar, or fructose. An unripe banana, for example, will taste starchy but a ripe banana will taste sweet. Fruit that is ready to be eaten would then be a sugary and not a starchy carbohydrate. The major exception is the plantain, which can be eaten in its unripe starchy stage. Unripe plantains are eaten cooked, and can be added to soups, fried, or eaten mashed. Plantains are high in vitamin A and folate.
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