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Healtheuniversity > English > Diabetes College > Eat Healthy > Nutrition Basics > What are Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat?

What are Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat?

You need carbohydrates, protein and fat to help your body function.

  • Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel or energy.
  • Protein helps to build tissue and repair your body after damage or stress.
  • Fats that come from plants and fish are known as unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

All food is made up of carbohydrates, protein or fat or a mix of these nutrients.

You need each of these nutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) to help your body function. Eat a range of foods with these nutrients to have a healthy diet.

Learn more about:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel or energy. Carbohydrates act like the gasoline in a car. Carbohydrates turn into glucose (or sugar) in your body. Your working muscles and brain need this glucose to work well. You cannot live without them.

Since carbohydrates turn into glucose (or sugar) in your body, they will raise your blood sugar level. You need to eat the right amount of carbohydrates to be healthy and still manage your blood sugar. Learn which foods have carbohydrates.

What foods have carbohydrates?

Most foods from the 4 food groups contain carbohydrates.

Fruits and vegetables

All fruit (except avocado) and starchy vegetables contain carbohydrates. Some examples of starchy vegetables include:

  • potatoes
  • yams
  • sweet potato
  • parsnip
  • green peas
  • turnip (such as rutabaga)
  • squash (such as pumpkin, butternut, buttercup, acorn)
  • frozen mixed vegetables
  • tomato sauce
  • snow peas
  • cassava or Yuca
  • taro
  • eddoes
  • plantain
  • jicama
  • chayote
  • dasheen
  • breadfruit
  • corn

Note: Some vegetables are not called carbohydrates. This is because they do not raise your blood sugar very much. Some examples of vegetables that do not raise your blood sugar very much are:

  • asparagus
  • bean sprouts
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • carrots
  • bok choi
  • cucumber
  • eggplant
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • kale
  • onions
  • cabbage
  • mushrooms
  • bell pepper
  • okra
  • celery
  • endive
  • radish
  • yellow or green beans

Grains

  • bread, buns, rolls (all types)
  • bagel
  • cold cereal
  • noodles
  • pita
  • roti, chapatti
  • corn, cornmeal
  • rice (all types)
  • quinoa
  • matzah
  • barley
  • muffin
  • oats
  • pasta
  • crackers
  • flour (all types)

Milk and alternatives (not cheese)

  • all types of cow milk
  • soy beverage
  • almond beverage
  • yogurt (plain or flavoured)
  • evaporated milk
  • kefir
  • ice cream

Meat alternatives

Legumes such as:

  • lentils or dhal
  • chickpeas
  • kidney (red or white) beans
  • black-eye peas
  • fava beans
  • split pea
  • romano
  • pigeon peas

Sugar and sweets

Sugar and sweets are not part of the 4 food groups, but also contain carbohydrates. These foods include:

  • sugar (all types such as brown sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar)
  • agave
  • honey
  • candy
  • regular pop
  • iced tea
  • fruit drinks
  • syrups (such as maple syrup)
  • cakes and muffins
  • cookies
  • pies

These foods do not provide the same value as other foods. Sweets often contain a large amount of carbohydrates in a very small serving. Limit your portion size and limit the amount of sweets you eat. Eat healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains at your meals.

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Protein

What foods have protein?

Protein helps to build tissue and repair your body after damage or stress. Protein does not raise blood sugar.

The foods that have higher amounts of protein include:

  • fish (canned, frozen and fresh) – also contain fat
  • meat (beef, pork, lamb, goat) –also contain fat
  • poultry (chicken, turkey) – also contain fat
  • legumes (dried beans, lentils, chickpeas) – also contains carbohydrate
  • soy (such as tofu); Tempeh (fermented soy)
  • edamame – also contain fat
  • eggs and egg whites
  • nuts and seeds – also contain fat
  • nut and seed butters (such as peanut butter, almond butter, tahini) – also contain fat
  • cheeses – also contain fat
  • kefir, milk (all types), yogurt – also contain carbohydrate and fat
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Fat

What foods have fat?

Fats do not raise blood sugar and are needed for good health. There are three main types of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans.

Unsaturated fats

Fats that come from plants and fish are known as unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Recall that too much LDL (bad) cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your blood vessels. Find out more about cholesterol and how it impacts your health »

Some examples of foods that contain unsaturated fats include:

  • vegetable oils (all types such as olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil)
  • avocado
  • nut or seed butters (such as peanut butter, almond butter, tahini)
  • nuts and seeds (all types)
  • non-hydrogenated margarines
  • fish, especially fatty fish (such as trout, sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, tuna)

Saturated fats

Fats found mostly in animals are known as saturated fat. Saturated fat may increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Some examples of foods that contain saturated fats include:

  • bacon and turkey bacon
  • skin on poultry
  • lard
  • butter
  • cream (table, half and half, whipping)
  • palm oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil

Trans fats

Trans fats are artificial fats or industrially produced (factory-made) fats. These fats are not healthy. Trans fats can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. Trans fats have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease in people living with diabetes.

Foods with trans fats include:

  • shortening
  • hard stick margarine
  • baked goods and snacks that contain partially hydrogenated oils

Learn more by reading Getting the Facts on Fat PDF (opens in new window) »

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Last Reviewed: 10/16/2016