Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates
It is a popular belief that carbohydrates are a scary thing that should be avoided. However, carbohydrates are actually a very important part of our diets. This doesn’t mean you should munch on cakes and cookies to get your daily serving. There are healthy carbohydrates that you can incorporate into your daily diet that aren’t filled with sugar. Here are the differences between good and bad carbs.
Carbs are the body’s main energy source and are a crucial part of any healthy diet. You should never avoid including them in your meals at least once a day. That being said, there are healthy and unhealthy options and it is important to know the difference so that you are making the right choice.
The three main kinds of carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber. This is referred to as “simple” or “complex” based on their chemical makeup and what your body uses them for, but since many foods contain one or more types of carbs, it can still be confusing to understand what’s healthy for you and what’s not.
Simple carbohydrates include easy-to-digest, basic sugars. This can be an important source of energy. Some of these sugars are naturally found in fruits and in milk. Refined or processed sugars are often added to candies, baked goods, and soda. A good rule of thumb to go by when deciding if it is healthy or unhealthy carbs: The higher in sugar it is, and the lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, the worse the food is for you. Simple as that.
Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. They contain longer chains of sugar molecules, which usually take more time for the body to break down and use. This, in turn, provides you with a more even amount of energy.
The details on simple carbs
It depends on the food you’re getting simple carbs from to know if they are good or bad. For example, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. They naturally contain simple carbohydrates composed of basic sugars. However, fruits and vegetables are drastically different from other foods in the “simple” carbohydrate category. For example, cookies and cakes with added refined sugars. The fiber in fruits and vegetables changes the way the body processes sugars and slows down the digestion, making bodies more like complex carbohydrates. You can enjoy simple carbs on occasion but you don’t want to make them your primary source of carbs.
Avoid these simple carbs:
- Pastries and desserts
- Sweetened beverages, such as lemonade or iced tea
- Energy drinks
- Ice cream
The details on complex carbs
Complex carbs are considered to be more on the healthy side due to the long series of sugars that make them up. These series take the body longer to break down. Also, complex carbs generally have a lower glycemic load, which means that lower amounts of sugars will release at a more consistent rate. So, no peaks and valleys of energy. This will keep you going throughout the day.
Also, foods with complex carbohydrates typically have more vitamins, fiber, and minerals than foods containing simple carbs. Whole grains, for instance, provide more nutrients than processed grains, so go for the darker bread next time.
It’s important to look over ingredient labels for foods like bread and pasta. Pay attention to see which ones are whole grain and have fewer sources of added sugar. Read the box so you know what exactly you’re getting. If the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour or whole-oat flour, it’s likely going to be a complex carbohydrate. If there’s fiber there, it’s probably more complex.
The glycemic load
Determining if carbs or simple or complex is one way to understand if they are healthy or not. However, nutritionists and dietitians now use another concept to guide people in making decisions about the carbs they choose to eat.
The glycemic index (GI) of food basically distinguishes how quickly and how high your blood sugar will rise after eating the carbohydrate contained in that food, as compared with eating pure sugar. Lower glycemic index foods are healthier for your body and they will make you feel fuller faster. Most, but not all, foods containing complex carbs fall into the low glycemic index category.
To take this approach one step further, you want to look at the glycemic load (GL) of a food. The glycemic load factors into account both glycemic index and how much carbohydrate is in the food. In order to determine the glycemic load, multiply a food’s glycemic index number by the amount of carbohydrate the food contains per serving, and divide by 100. A low GL is 10 or less; medium is 11 to 19, and 20 or greater is considered high. A plain bagel, for example, has a GI of 72 and GL of 25, while whole-wheat bread has a GI of 69 and GL of 9.
All in all, just be cautious about the carbs you eat. Low nutrient deserts should be a very limited occurrence. Focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and veggies. Supply your body with the energy it needs every day!