Good/Bad Carbohydrates

Some carbohydrates are better for you than other ones. Here is a quick list that will help you make better choices.

Carbohydrates (Better)

Green Vegetables, Brown Rice, Sweet Potatoes, Whole Grain Breads
Oats, Lentils, and limited quantities of fruit

Carbohydrates (try to Avoid)

Potatoes, White Rice, White Bread, Pasta, Instant Oatmeal, Sweets
and Candies, Cereals

 

WHAT ARE CARBOHYDRATES?

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy.  They fuel the cells and the brain.  Chemically, they are merely different forms of simple sugars linked together in polymers – something like edible plastic.  When you eat a lot of carbohydrates, your body uses what it needs for energy and stores a supply in the liver and muscles to be used in times of vigorous exercise or stress.  However, storage space is limited.  Therefore, excess carbohydrates are stored in the form of fat.  If you are making new fat, you cannot break down the fat that your body already has. If you want to lose weight, you must decrease the amount of carbohydrates in your diet.
There are good reasons to be selective about what carbohydrates you choose to eat.  Although a small percentage of carbohydrates are obtained from dairy products, most are obtained from plants: vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes. Based upon their molecular structure, carbohydrates are divided into two main types: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.   Edible fiber is also a carbohydrate.  It’s a vital part of your diet because it helps prevent constipation by keeping things moving through the digestive tract, but most fiber is not absorbed by the body.

 

SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES:

Simple carbohydrates are sugars, built in single or double molecules. This category includes names that you will recognize: glucose (in edible form most commonly found in corn syrup), fructose (found in fruit), lactose (found in milk) and refined sugar.  Easy to spot examples of simple carbohydrates are candy, fruit juices, skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and sweet baked goods and pastries.
However, there are some other simple carbohydrates that you might not recognize quite so easily: white bread, white rice, white (and yellow) grits, and white potatoes belong in this category, as well as do bananas, grapes and watermelon, which are fruits with a very high fructose (sugar from fruit) content.   Before you declare that life isn’t worth living if you shouldn’t eat grits — or drink orange juice — learn to eat them in moderation, combined with proteins and high-fiber, whole-grain complex carbs.
Understanding the difference in how the consumption of simple and complex carbohydrates effects your body is important.  Simple carbohydrates are digested fast, causing your blood sugar to rise rapidly.  This can produce a shaky, lightheaded feeling. To help stabilize your blood sugar level, the body kicks in insulin. Insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved to put aside excess carbohydrate calories and store them in the form of fat in case of future famine.  Increased insulin levels tell the body to store fat, but even worse, they signal the body not to release any already stored fat. This makes it impossible for you to use your own stored body fat for energy. Moreover — and we all know this — very few candies and sweet pastries really supply anything nutritious to the body.

 

COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES:

Complex carbohydrates are the good-for-you carbohydrates. In contrast, to simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates have more nutrients and more fiber.  They take longer to digest so they do not cause rapid rises in blood sugar levels. Breads and cereal made from whole grains, especially a variety of grains, are excellent complex carbs. Health food stores have breads made from spelt and sprouted wheat, which is even more nutritious than whole wheat.  In addition to whole wheat, corn and oats, the whole grains most frequently in multi-grain cereal are quinoa, spelt, and kamut. Instead of grits or cream of wheat, serve kasha and oatmeal when you want a hot cereal.  Preferred forms are steel-cut (which is the least processed and takes the longest time to cook) and regular (sometimes called old-fashioned rolled oats).  “Quick” oatmeal ranks third in fiber. Avoid instant oatmeal.  It is so processed that its structure is more like a simple carbohydrate than a complex one.
The Spring 2001 American Institute for Cancer Research newsletter adds this tip: “You will find brown breads on the supermarket shelves that are not actually whole grain.  Some breads are brown because caramel coloring or molasses is added during production, but they are actually made mostly of refined flour or ‘enriched’ flour. (Enriched flour is simply refined flour that has at least been enriched by adding back the vitamins that it was stripped of.)  The same goes for some ‘seven-grain’ breads.” Whole grains, says the AICR, “contain all parts of the plant kernel, including the fiber-rich bran and the germ.  Refined grains are stripped of these nutritious components during milling.”
Breads and cereals made from whole-grain wheat must list this ingredient as whole-wheat flour.  Further, because of the FDA’s improved nutritional requirements, the ingredients must be listed in order of their percentage of the whole product.  In other words, if a product has whole-wheat or other whole grains in it, they should be right up front as the first ingredients in the list.  If other ingredients come first, there probably are not enough whole grains in the product to really make it nutritionally worthwhile.
You might not recognize some foods as members of the complex carbohydrate category.  Legumes belong in this category: cow peas, chick peas, crowder peas, black beans, black-eyed peas, dried split green peas, lentils, lima beans, butter beans, kidney beans, white beans and soybeans.  So are sweet potatoes, which are better than white potatoes.  Brown rice and wild rice are better than white rice.  Whole wheat pasta and pasta made with durum wheat are better than pasta made of refined flour. Once seen only in health food stores, most grocery stores now have pasta made of quinoa or spelt.  Barley, bulgur and wheat berries make interesting pilafs that add nice texture to salads.
Fruits too are carbohydrates — and have been proven to be important antioxidants.  As discussed under simple carbohydrates, fruit juices, bananas, grapes and watermelon have the highest sugar content, but be aware that all fruits contain fructose (fruit sugar).  Dried fruits are concentrated little sugar snacks, plus they are packed with calories.  Raisins are delicious, but are 11 raisins worth 130 calories?   Whole fruits, with no sugar added, are your best choice for all-around good health.  Cantaloupe packs a big batch of nutrition.  The berries are believed to be influential in cancer protection.  Unpeeled apples and oranges with only the skin and seeds removed provide fiber.   And any piece of fresh fruit is many, many times better for you than a cupcake!  But be judicious.

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