Many people think carbohydrates are bad for you, but they’re actually an important part of a healthy diet. Not all carbohydrates are created equal, though. So how do you know which ones are right?
Carbohydrates, generally known as “carbs,” are your body's primary energy source, and therefore a crucial part of your eating plan. Unfortunately, Americans tend to consume too many “bad” carbs and not enough “good” ones. Most people think of carbs as white foods such as bread, pasta, and potatoes, but the category also includes whole grains, vegetables and beans. “Good” carbs tend to be great sources of vitamins and fiber, while “bad” carbs contain empty calories with little nutrition content. Here are five facts about carbs that will help you distinguish between the two:
Complex Carbs Are “Good” Carbs Foods that contain complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are generally lower in calories and have longer chains of sugar molecules, meaning that they take more time for the body to break down and use. This lower glycemic load results in more sustained energy throughout the day, rather than the spikes and drops that commonly result from simple carbs. Try making small changes to your diet, such as using brown rice instead of white rice. Other good sources of complex carbs are whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, prunes, apricots, broccoli, onions and legumes.
Load Up On Fiber The best carbohydrates contain lots of fiber, which slows down the absorption of the other nutrients you eat, helping to keep your blood glucose levels from rising too fast. Specific types of fiber in oats, beans, and certain fruits can also help lower the level of cholesterol in your blood. Fiber also causes your intestines move faster, which helps send a signal to your body that you are full. To add more fiber to your diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as half a cup of beans each day. Whole grains will also increase your fiber intake.
Go Easy On The White Stuff To minimize the negative effects of carbs, try to eat fewer “white” foods that are refined and processed, like white bread and white rice. Another important thing to cut back on is sugar, which is more rampant than ever in the average American’s diet. Avoid “added sugars,” which come in the form of sweeteners and artificial syrups and are often present in sweetened beverages. Be wary of products labeled “low-fat” or “nonfat,” because these tend to have added sugar that substitutes for fat.
Eat Simple Carbs Before Exercising You don’t have to avoid the “bad” carbohydrates all the time. The best time to consume simple carbs – such as white bread and pasta – is when you need some energy before physical activity. This is because simple carbohydrates are quickly broken down into sugar, or glucose, which is fuel for the body. However, simple carbs should generally be avoided in other situations because they tend to lead to weight gain and cause spikes in your blood sugar level. Additionally, those who regularly consume bad carbs are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease.
Balance Is Key A healthy diet involves a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Contrary to popular belief, those who eat a diet high in carbohydrates tend to accumulate less body fat than others because they’re eating the right carbs. While dietary needs differ from person to person, the general consensus is that you should get anywhere from 45-65 percent of your daily calories from complex carbohydrates. The majority of these calories should come from whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables. Try to limit your intake of artificially sweetened beverages, refined foods, and desserts.