For many of us, the question about carbohydrates is whether to consider them our friend or our enemy. That’s the question on everyone’s mind these days. In the game of Good Carb/Bad Carb it’s hard to know where you stand. Some days the idea of adopting a starvation diet seems like the only way out of the dilemma.
Carbs are taking a bad rap, no doubt about it. Much of it is needless concern. As with most everything in life, moderation is good, excess is bad. So it is with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are necessary and important to a healthy lifestyle. The body uses carbs to make glucose. In return glucose provides energy and keeps all systems up and running. Glucose can be converted to energy right away or stored in the liver to meet future requirements.
A healthy diet is one that delivers from 45% to 65% of total calories consumed in the form of carbohydrates. In a typical 2,000 calorie per day diet that would translate into 900 to 1300 calories. Diets that promote excessive restrictions on this amount may result in weight loss, but they also contribute to sluggish, tired performance.
Carbohydrates are classified two way: Complex carbohydrates which include starches (potatoes, peas, bread, cereal, grain) and dietary fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), and Simple carbohydrates (sugars occurring naturally in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products and sugars added to foods during processing).
Generally, foods with more dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates are viewed as the “good” carbs. They take longer for the body to convert to glucose. Dietary fiber contributes to a feeling of “fullness”. That is why the “good” carbs are considered more diet friendly.
“Bad” carbs, those foods which play havoc with our diet goals, are those foods made with white flour or added sugar. These include some of our favorite treats like cake, cookies, and processed white breads.
Obviously, if a person consuming a 2,000 calories per day diet should be eating between 900 and 1300 calories in carbohydrates, this nutrient grouping is vitally important to our survival. The easy part is finding enough calories to fulfill this requirement. The hard part is finding enough healthy, nutritious, energy-producing calories to do the job well.
This is where the “good” carbs come into play. Whenever possible, the best choices are the complex carbohydrates that provide high levels of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is further classified as either soluble fiber or insoluble fiber. Both are important. Choose oatmeal, oat bran, nuts, seeds, apples, pears or almost any fruit, beans or legumes to fulfill your soluble fiber needs. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole wheat, corn bran, whole grain breads and cereals, couscous, seeds, most vegetables, most fruits and brown rice. Eat enough of a variety of these foods to get maximum benefits.
It’s best to save the carbs with the “added sugar” for limited special occasions. Unsure if a food you want to eat has added sugar or not? Check the nutrition label. Look for ingredients with the names corn sweetener, invert sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, maltose, sucrose, fructose or dextrose. Also check the number of grams of sugar listed on the nutrition label on the package. For quick calculation, 4 grams of sugar is equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar. This may make it easier to visualize exactly what you are eating (or choosing not to eat).
Carbohydrates are the basis of nutrition. The floor of the Food Guide Pyramid is carbohydrates, the portion with the highest number of recommended daily servings. There is no question they are important to our healthy diet. It’s just a matter of learning to make the better choices most of the time.