Though there are many benefits of healthy carbohydrates, it is important that the right carbohydrates are eaten in moderation. A carbohydrate-intensive diet can cause high blood sugar and unwanted weight gain. It is important to eat an appropriate amount of carbohydrates in order to meet the body’s nutritional needs and maintain a healthy weight.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the 3 macronutrients along with proteins and fats that the body requires daily. There are 3 types of carbohydrates:
Starches: Starches are often referred as complex carbohydrates. They are found in grains, legumes, rice and starchy vegetable like potatoes and corn.
Sugars: Sugars are known as simple carbohydrates. There are natural sugars in vegetables, fruits, milk and honey.
Fiber: Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cooked dry beans and peas.
Added Sugars: Added sugars are found in processed foods, syrups, sugary drinks and sweets.
What Are the Functions of Carbohydrates:
There are five primary functions of carbohydrates in the body: 1 )Provides energy, 2) Stores energy, 3) Builds macro molecules, 4) Spares protein for energy, and 5) Assists in fat metabolism.
Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose which is converted to energy to support bodily functions and physical activity. The carbohydrate quality is important more so than the quantity of carbohydrates. Some types of carbohydrate rich foods are better than others:
The healthiest sources of carbohydrate are unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans which promote good healthy food by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber and a host of important phytonutrient.*
The unhealthiest sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that contributes to weight gain, interferes with weight loss and promotes diabetes and heart disease.
The Healthy Eating Plate recommends filling most of your plate with healthy carbohydrates with vegetables (except potatoes) and fruits taking up about half of the plate and whole grains filling up about one fourth of the plate.
Tips for adding Healthy Carbohydrates to Your Diet:
- Start the day with whole grain foods such as hot cereal like steel oats or the old fashioned oats (not instant oatmeal), or a cold cereal that lists whole grains first on the label and is low in sugar. A good rule of thumb: Choose a cereal that has at least 4 grams of fiber or more and less than 8 gram of sugar per serving.
- Use whole grain bread for lunch or snacks. The best way to find a whole grain bread is to look for bread that lists the first ingredient as whole wheat, whole rye or some other whole grain – and even better a bread that is made with only whole grains such 100% whole wheat bread.
- Look beyond the bread aisle. Whole wheat bread is often made with finely ground flour, and is often high in sodium instead of bread – a whole grain in salad form such as brown rice or quinoa.
- Choose whole fruit instead of juice. A fresh orange has two times as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12 oz glass of orange juice.
- Instead of potatoes, beans are a good substitute. Potatoes promote weight gain. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates. Beans and other legumes such as chickpeas provide a healthy dose of protein.
How Much Carbohydrate to Eat?
The Dietary Guidelines of America (2020-2025)* state that carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet and should make up between 45-60% of the total energy intake. The average American consumes only 40-50% of calories as carbohydrates and only about half of that as fruits, grains, vegetables or other high quality or complex carbohydrates. Currently, Americans eat the other half as table sugar and high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten soda pop, cereals, prepared spaghetti sauces, fruit juices and yogurts. American eat the equivalent of more than 16 teaspoons or approximately 5 tablespoons of sugar each day or 60 pounds of table sugar and 50 pounds of corn syrup each year.
Americans need to think about complex carbohydrates a dietary staple daily in order to make changes in eating less simple and table sugars.
*Phytonutrients – non nutritive substances that are very beneficial to health.
*The Dietary Guidelins of America – 2020 -2025. US. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Disease and Prevention and Health Promotion. Health gov. Dietary Guidelines.gov.
*MyPlate.gov Make every bite count.