Carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol are all sources of calories in the diet. These nutrients can all be part of a healthy diet. Balancing the calories that we take in with those that we burn every day can help us maintain, gain, or lose weight.
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
Food contains three types of carbohydrates: sugar, starches and fiber. Carbohydrates are either simple or complex. The type of carbohydrates that you eat makes a difference – foods that contain high amounts of simple sugars like candy, cake, soda and other sweets, raise fat levels in the blood, such as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. High levels of these fats in the blood are associated with heart disease and diabetes.
- Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and send immediate bursts of glucose (energy) into the blood stream. That’s why you may feel a rush of energy when you eat a dessert, only to be followed by a crash of tiredness an hour later. Simple sugars provide calories, but lack nutrients and fiber. They can also lead to weight gain when consumed too frequently.But not all simple sugars are alike. There are also simple sugars in more nutritious foods, like fruit and milk. These are “naturally occurring” sugars and, unlike refined sugars, these sugars often come with vitamins, minerals, and fiber that our bodies need.
- Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly and supply a steadier release of sugar into the blood stream. Examples of complex carbohydrates include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. These carbohydrates are rich in nutrients and fiber, which helps your digestive system work well. Fiber helps you feel full, so you are less likely to overeat. That explains why you feel fuller after eating a bowl of oatmeal compared to drinking a soda.
Why do I need carbohydrates?
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into simple sugars, which are absorbed into the bloodstream. As the sugar level rises in your body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where the sugar can be used as a source of energy.
When this process goes fast — as with simple sugars like soda and high-calorie desserts — you’re more likely to feel hungry again soon. When that process occurs more slowly, as with a whole-grain food, you’ll feel satisfied longer because it takes longer for your body to break down the complex carbohydrates in whole-grains.
Simple carbohydrates found in processed, refined or added sugars that do not contain any nutritional value include:
- Regular (non-diet) carbonated beverages, such as soda
- Table sugar
- Added sugar
Complex carbohydrates, often referred to as “starchy” foods, include:
- Beans (such as red beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils)
- Starchy vegetables (such as corn, yams, green beans)
- Whole-grain and fiber (such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice)
Try and get carbohydrates, vitamins and other nutrients in as natural a form as possible. For example, enjoy fruit instead of a soft drink and aim for whole grains instead of processed flours.
So when it comes to carbohydrates follow these recommendations:
- Limit foods that are high in processed, refined simple sugars provide calories but they have very little nutrition
- Get more complex carbohydratesand healthy nutrients by eating more fruits and vegetables
- Focus on whole-grainrice, breads and cereals, and don’t forget the legumes — beans, lentils and dried peas
Thanks to the American Heart Association for this helpful information!