When it comes to carbohydrates, many people are confused as to whether or not they should include them in their diet.
However, carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet as long as we nourish our bodies with the “healthier” carbohydrate options as opposed to the “less healthy” options.
Therefore, the most important thing to consider when dealing with carbohydrates is the type of carbohydrates rather than the amount. This is not to say that a person should eat as many carbohydrates as they want, but with the right options, one can eat a variety of “healthy” carbohydrates and still be able to meet their health goals.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are found in many healthy and unhealthy foods including bread, beans, milk, vegetables, popcorn, potatoes, spaghetti, cookies, soft drinks, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.
Healthy foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. Without carbohydrates, one can experience low energy and even experience brain fog. As mentioned above, it is the quality of carbohydrate that is important because some types of carbohydrate-rich foods are healthier than others:
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates—unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans—promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.
Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
MyPlate recommends filling up about half of your plate with healthy carbohydrates such as vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits while whole grains should be filling up about one-fourth of your plate.
Try these tips from Harvard University for adding healthy carbohydrates to your diet:
1. Start the day with whole grains. Try a hot cereal, like steel cut or old fashioned oats (not instant oatmeal), or a cold cereal that lists a whole grain first on the ingredient list and is low in sugar. A good rule of thumb: Choose a cereal that has at least 4 grams of fiber and less than 3-5 grams of sugar per serving.
2. Use whole-grain breads for lunch or snacks. Confused about how to find whole-grain bread? Look for bread that lists as the first ingredient whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain —and even better, one that is made with only whole grains, such as 100 percent whole-wheat bread. Note: avoid the often added ingredient wheat gluten...it is naturally occurring in wheat and unfortunately it gets added in unnecessary amounts to help "soften" the bread.
3. Look beyond the bread aisle. Whole wheat bread is often made with finely ground flour, and bread products are often high in sodium. Instead of bread, try a whole grain in alternate forms such as brown rice or quinoa.
4. Choose whole fruit instead of juice. An orange has two times as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice.
5. Pass on potatoes, and instead bring on the beans. Rather than fill up on potatoes – which have been found to promote weight gain – choose beans for an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates. Beans and other legumes such as chickpeas also provide a healthy dose of protein.
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1. Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-404.
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