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May 27, 2011 at 3:47 PMComments: 10 Faves: 0

The Healthiest Carbohydrates

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Though they are truly nutritious macronutrients, they are commonly deemed the bad guy in our state of obesity. Carbs are often blamed for weight gain and avoided like the plague by the many low-carb dieters out there. However, speaking from personal experience, carbohydrates will NOT make you fat. It's eating too much of the wrong types that can.

Carbohydrates are the fuel for life, providing the preferred energy source for both brain and muscle. Rather than dodging this source of nutrition altogether, all you need to do is select the right ones.

Before I begin to explain what makes one carbohydrate better than another, let’s discuss the basics of this macronutrient.

Carbohydrates are one of several types of energy sources in our diet, right alongside protein and fat. Carbs contain sugar, starch and fiber. With the exception of dietary fiber, carbs are broken down into sugar (a.k.a. glucose) in order to fuel our body. Plant-based foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables are all great sources of carbohydrates, though they are also found in dairy products and added to many sweets and beverages.  

Where do the majority of carbs come from in YOUR diet?

The Best Sources of Carbohydrates

The best sources of carbohydrates for health are those from fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Here are a few tips for each food group:

Fruits.

Fruit consists primarily of carbohydrates, providing a great source of easily digested energy (sugar). Naturally paired with fiber, it can help to reduce the impact on your blood sugar. Whether you prefer your fruit fresh, frozen or canned, you are making a wise decision for your health as fruit is a frequently packed with disease fighting antioxidants. My only request is when you are searching for frozen or canned versions is to opt for those packed in juice rather than syrup to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet.  Now, if you were to opt for fruit juice instead, you will find a version of fruit where all of the fiber has been stripped away thereby enabling the rollercoaster ride of blood sugar commonly felt after consuming candy or soda-pop.

Vegetables.

Vegetables are amazing. Rich in nutrition, yet light in calories.  However, while all vegetables do contain some carbohydrates, the amounts certainly vary. Water-packed cucumber has far less carbohydrates than a savory serving of kabocha squash, yet that does not make one better than the other, as both are terrific additions to a nutritious diet. Aim for variety and enjoy any and all carbs found in your veggies.

Whole Grains.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines continue to push the advice offered back in 2005, “Make half your grains whole”. In other words, out of all of the bread, pasta and cereal you choose to eat each day aim to make 50% or more whole grain versions. How can you tell? Make sure WHOLE is used within the first ingredient (whole grain rolled oats, whole wheat, whole grain barley, whole grain brown rice, etc.). Whole grains are preferred by health experts around the globe.  They contain the nutrient and fiber filled components often stripped away in the refining process used to make refined grains such as white bread or all-purpose flour. Up to 80% of the nutrients are stripped away during the process, including those energizing B vitamins.

Not So Healthy Carbs

While it may seem obvious when it comes to spotting the healthy carbs in your supermarket, do you know which ones are not quite so great?

This is where things may become tricky. Some not-so-health carbs may even include whole grains, but there may still be a great deal of added sugars.

A healthy rule of thumb is to limit added sugars to (excluding fruit and milk) to 40 grams per day or 10 teaspoons (four grams is in one teaspoon). This may seem easy until you realize it’s common to find this amount or more in an American sized soda-pop. Simply try to become more aware of what you are eating is all that I ask.

Carbohydrates are certainly not the enemy.

In fact, they are found in the food groups most highly recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans! What well balanced diet would be void of vibrant veggies, flavorful fruit and hearty whole grains?

Eat and enjoy!

J

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10 Comments

  • As a self-confessed carbohydrate lover, I really appreciate this post! Thanks for showing that they're not always the bad guy :)

  • Laura, you just made my day! :)

  • I agree with Laura. I love carbs! Bread is one of my favorite foods. Thank you for posting this! It helps make me more aware about whole grain foods and now I will be looking for them the next time I go grocery shopping :)

  • Good for your, Bri! There are plenty of delicious grains out there! Have you experimented with Quinoa yet? As far as breads, this is my absolutely favorite: http://www.rudisbakery.com/organic/products/?type=breads&id=59

    Yum!

  • Ooh, that looks delicious! I'm going to have to check it out...

    I need to become more familiar with Quinoa. My favorite restaurant has a sweet potato quinoa burger which is absolutely divine, but other than that, I'm really not sure how to cook with it!

  • I am highly intrigued by that burger! If you search quinoa on EatingWell.com you will find plenty of tasty recipe ideas :) My favorites include the summery salads - the easiest is to mix quinoa with black beans, corn, and top it off with salsa. Couldn't be simpler. Enjoy!

  • LOVE quinoa! It reminds me of cous cous, but has this really fun texture to it. Like tiny cous cous sized beads filled with air.

    The first time I had it I got a pack with seasoning already added, which I now replicate myself with plain quinoa. "Mediterranean style" with sliced almonds, dried onion and golden raisins - I cook it all with vegetable broth and a little olive oil and salt for added flavor. Remind me of stuffing this way. The raisins might seem a little odd, but they get nice and plump when cooked and add and interesting sweetness. I like to counter this with olives for a nice sweet-salty combo.

    I clung to this recipe for awhile, but recently I tried something new with tasty results! Cooked just the quinoa with vegetable broth (which it will absorb like rice) then added cooked diced zucchini, halved fresh cherry tomatoes from my garden, minced raw purple onion. Then I tossed this mix with a homemade dressing of just dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, chopped basil from my garden and a little minced garlic. (I'm making myself hungry writing this! n.n)

  • Jessica, you talk about limiting sugar but what about the natural sugar like Truvia would you suggest moving to this kind of sugar instead of regular white cane sugar? If so is it safe to consume this type of sugar or it's too new to tell at this time?

  • @Erin, you have absolutely inspired me to add your recipe to my repertoire - sounds great! I am also a huge fan of raisins and dried cherries. I also believe that sometimes it is the unusual addition of an ingredient which gives the meal the needed final touch :) Now, as for the addition of olives along with the raisins....? I guess I will just have to try it! Your second recipe sounds much closer to what I have done as well. You sound like quite the cook!

  • @Nancy, I believe your questions sounds like a terrific blog post that I will have to add to my list! That is a great question and while the current scientific data (which is very limited and certainly lacks in long-term information) does say that non-nutritive sweeteners are safe, yet this seems to be a highly debatable and subjective topic.

    Before you ask, yes, I include Truvia (a.k.a. Stevia) in the category of non-nutritive sweeteners as well because it does not contain any tangible nutrients.

    My recommendation is to use nutritive (with calories) sources of sugar in moderation simply because I do not yet feel there is enough scientific evidence to make me feel 100% safe with the alternatives. However, I understand that the majority of Americans do tend to use non-nutritive sweeteners and if this is the case, simply use moderation here as well. If I were to pick one to use myself, I would likely go with Truvia/Stevia and mix it 50/50 with a normal sugar. This way I would be able to limit my calories while also limiting my exposure to a controversial food source.

    This is very much a complex topic, but I hope this has helped to shed a bit of light on it for you :)

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