Carbohydrates Play Important Roles in Nutrition, So Make Smart Choices
Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber. They come in two general types: simple and complex. Simple carbs include such items as table sugar and fructose; they are made of single sugar units and are easier to digest. Complex carbohydrates, including starches and fiber, are made of longer chains of sugar units, which digest more slowly. Common carbohydrate foods include breads, cereals, pasta, grains, fruits, some vegetables, beans and other legumes to name a few.
Good or Bad?
Carbohydrates have received somewhat of a bad rap in recent years, but they actually provide many health benefits. They serve as the body's main power source and provide vital nutrients such as iron, folate, antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc and magnesium.
Complex carbohydrates, such as fiber-rich whole grains, help reduce cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. They also help your body feel fuller for longer after a meal, which can help cut down on between-meal snacking. Common sources of complex carbohydrates include bulgur, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, wheat berries and barley.
For carbohydrates, we should be aware that too much of a good thing can be detrimental to our health. When we regularly consume more than the recommended daily amount of carbohydrates, the body can develop insulin resistance, which increases a person's risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Obesity is another common result of eating too many carbs, since the body tends to store excess carbs as fat.
It's best to limit your consumption of refined and processed carbohydrates - especially those found in cookies and cakes, white bread, sweetened cereals and sodas.
What to Avoid
Although not all carbohydrates provide the same benefits, breads and potatoes are not the enemy. When eaten in moderation, they can add variety and appeal to meals. When choosing the carbs you eat, try to select more fiber-rich options and make them a part of a well-balanced diet. For instance, depending on the type you select, a slice of bread can supply as little as 50 calories and as much as 4 grams of fiber.
A Closer Look at Food Labels
When looking at food labels, always look at the serving size, which can be misleading since the serving size does not always represent the entire package. For carbohydrates on food labels, pay close attention to the total number of carbs vs. looking at fiber or sugars alone. The total carbs listed (in grams) represents all carbs, including fiber, sugar, and other carb sources. Most people should aim for ~35-55 grams of carbs per meal and 10-20 grams per snack.
By: Patricia Tyndale, RD