In the past there has been lots of ambiguity about carbohydrates. Its reputation has swung wildly – bad to good and good to bad. They have been often touted as the feared foods that make you fat. And then some carbs have also been advocated as a healthy nutrient linked with lower risk of chronic diseases.
Good Carbs And Bad Carbs
So, are carbohydrates good or bad? The straightaway answer is that they are both.
What Are The Good Carbs?
Good carbs are carbs that don’t raise blood sugar too high or too quickly. The best-known good carb sources are – plant foods that provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals along with the carbohydrate, such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits. Carbohydrates are the only dietary source of fiber. Carbs with higher fiber content are generally considered good, unless it’s a naturally low-fiber food like skim or low-fat milk.
How To Distinguish Between Good Carbs And The Bad Carbs?
Following are the two tips to keep away from the bad carbs:
(i) To choose good carbs focus on carbohydrates, which are high in fiber. These carbs tend to get absorbed slowly into your systems, preventing spikes in sugar levels in your blood. Few examples are: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.
(ii) Try to eat fewer refined and processed carbohydrates that are stripped of beneficial fiber. Few examples are: white bread and white rice.
Bonus Fitness Tips:
(i) There’s a common myth that “carbohydrates make you fat.” In fact, they don’t. However, if you eat them in overly large amounts they could cause weight gain, but, then again, so could too much of any food. Actually, right types of carbohydrates are a healthy addition to your diet and they can boost your health!
(ii) If you focus on eating plenty of good carbs, you naturally adhere to another very important healthy food principle – low in sugar, especially processed or added sugar.
Dietary Fiber Carbs
Let us understand fiber and carbohydrates relationship. Fiber is the part in plant foods that humans can’t digest. Although fiber can’t be absorbed, but it’s of utmost importance for proper functioning of our digesting system.
Fiber decelerates the absorption of other nutrients eaten at the same meal, including carbohydrates. This means:
(i) The slowed absorption prevents peaks and valleys in our blood sugar levels, cutting back the risk for type 2 diabetes.
(ii) Some types of fiber contained in oats, beans, and certain fruits can also assist in controlling blood cholesterol.
(iii) Bonus benefit is that fiber makes people feel full, thus good for the people who are aiming to lose weight as it prevents hunger pangs.
The problem with these days’ typical diet is that usually it comprises of foods that lack in enough fiber. “White” grain is commonly used – whether it’s a muffin or bagel made with white flour in the morning, hamburger on a white bun, and white flour or rice with our dinner. In general, the more refined, or “whiter,” the grain-based food, the lower the fiber.
Family Fitness Tips: Here are three tips to include more fiber into your diet.
(i) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Just including five servings of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet will provide you about 10 or more grams of fiber, depending upon your choices. Go for salad made with spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and kidney beans in place of French fries.
(ii) Eat some beans and bean products daily. A half-cup of cooked beans will get you from 4 to 8 grams of fiber every day.
(iii) Use whole grains every single possible way (buns, rolls, bread, tortillas, pasta, crackers, etc.). For example, opt for 100% whole grain bread instead of a sandwich made on white bread.
What Are the Bad Carbs?
Most of the people know that the bad carbs comprise of:
(ii) “Added” sugars
(iii) Refined “white” grains
They simply don’t realize how much “added” sugar is in their diets. For instance, Americans are eating more sugar, in the form of added sugar, than ever before. You will be surprise to know, an average American adult takes in about 20 teaspoons of added sugar every day, according to the USDA’s recent nationwide food consumption survey. That comes to about 320 calories, which can easily add extra pounds to your body and especially around your waistline.
Tip: In order to have better carbs, always choose unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods that contain natural sugars, like fructose in fruit or lactose in milk.
How To Avoid Excess “Added Sugars”?
To quote Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman with the American Dietetic Association: “Added sugars, the caloric sweeteners, are sugars and syrups that are added to foods at the table or during processing or preparation (such as high fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages and baked products)”.
He further says: “Added sugars supply too many calories but few or no nutrients.”
Most of the people are well aware of low-fat diets and because of that they aim for eating more fat-free and low-fat products. But what many people don’t know is that in many of fat-free and low-fat products, sugar is being substituted for fat, so they unknowingly trade fat for sugar. Remember that as per USDA guidelines we should not intake more than 6% to 10% of our total calories from added sugar.
How To Read Nutrition Label To Track Your Carbohydrates?
Make a habit to read nutrition facts section given on food labels to pick good carb food products and discard the ones having bad carbs. Here’s what to look for on the Nutrition Facts label.
(i) Total Carbohydrate: To find out the total amount of carbohydrates in the food product per serving, look for the line that depicts “Total Carbohydrate”. Keep in mind that generally the grams of “fiber,” grams of “sugars” and grams of “other carbohydrate” will add up to the grams of “total carbohydrate” on the label.
(ii) Dietary Fiber: The line that says “Dietary Fiber” depicts the total amount of fiber in a food product per serving. Dietary fiber is the amount of carbohydrate, which remains unabsorbed and passes through your intestinal tract without being indigested.
(iii) Sugars: The line that says “Sugars” displays the total amount of carbohydrate from sugar in the food, from all sources — natural sources like lactose and fructose as well as added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. However, it’s important to differentiate between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugar is by all means better than added sugar.
Tip: To track how many grams of sugar on the label come from added sugars – like high fructose corn syrup or white or brown sugar – look at the list of ingredients on the label. Check if any of those sweeteners are in the top three or four ingredients. Ingredients are supposed to be listed in order of quantity, so the bulk a food product is made up of the first few ingredients.
(iv) Other Carbohydrate: The category “other carbohydrate” denotes the digestible carbohydrate, which is not considered a sugar (natural or otherwise).
(v) Sugar Alcohols: Some product labels also displays “sugar alcohols” under “Total Carbohydrate”. The sugar alcohols are generally listed as lactitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and others. Many “sugar free” or “reduced calorie” foods contain some sugar alcohols even when another alternative sweetener like Splenda is in the product.
Caution: In some people, sugar alcohol carbohydrates can lead to intestinal problems such as gas, cramping, or diarrhea. So better keep away from such products.
How Much Carbohydrates You Should Have A Day?
Depending on your age, sex, activity level, and overall health, your carbohydrate requirements will vary. According to the Mayo Clinic, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. That’s equal to about 225 to 325 grams of carbs if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
Family Fitness Tips:
(i) Remember, there is only one way to get fiber in your diet is to eat plant foods. Plants like fruits and vegetables fruits and vegetables are quality carbohydrates that are packed with fiber.
(ii) In September 2002, the National Academies Institute of Medicine recommended that people should focus on getting more good carbs with fiber into their diet.
(iii) Studies have found that low-fiber diets increase risk for heart disease.