The Skinny on Carbs
Carbohydrates (Carbs) are one of the main macronutrients that everyone needs for a balanced diet. What most people don’t know is that there are different types of carbohydrates. They are sometimes referred to as bad carbs/ good carbs or simple carbs /complex carbs. Thankfully, there is a simpler way to help us understand which types of carbohydrates we should and should not be eating. By breaking carbohydrates up into the three categories of added sugars, starches and fiber, we are able to identify healthy choices and implement them much easier. What you need to know is what makes each type of carbohydrate different from the other and how to choose wisely.
The first category is added sugar carbs and is comprised of refined foods which include sugary cereals, white rice, white breads, soda/ sugary drinks, sweets, and deserts. These foods have high sugar content and low nutritional value which means they should be avoided.
The second categories, starches, are generally dense and not necessarily sweet but simply have high carb content. Starches include foods like processed grains, rice, corn and potatoes (and other root veggies). These foods are broken down to sugar in the body and cause high spikes in blood sugar. It is not necessary to cut these foods out altogether, however, it is very important to eat them in moderation. Individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes are especially sensitive to the effects of the added sugar and starch categories and should limit their intake. The recommended portion for one serving of starches is ½ a cup.
The third and final category is fiber. This includes fruits, veggies (peppers, broccoli, leafy greens etc.) and whole grains (unrefined grains containing all three portions of the grain: external shell, starch and germ). Foods may be marketed as natural or whole grain which usually means a minimal amount of whole grains when used, and the products are still predominantly refined. Look for words like 100% whole grain or sprouted grain. Fibrous carbohydrates are broken down slower in the body because the fiber in them takes longer to digest. This process causes a much slower and more stable increase in blood sugar, unlike added sugars and starches. A good visual for this concept is putting a phone book into a wood chipper versus a tree. The tree will take more time, while the phone book would zip through. When choosing types of carbs the added sugars and starches are like the phone book and the fibers are like the tree.
So, what is the take away from this? Well, we need carbohydrates; however we also need to be choosy about which ones we eat. The best way to approach carbohydrates is to eat foods high in fiber. A good daily goal is 6-10 servings of fruits and veggies and 2-3 (½ cup) servings of whole grains (steal cut oats, barley or quinoa). Choosing fiber carbohydrates will not only ensure a healthy diet with high nutritional value, but you will also be choosing foods that will help stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss and maintain a healthy digestive system.