Although carbs have had a bad rap for years – considered a bane of some popular diets – nutrition experts remind us that carbs are a key ingredient in a healthy diet.
“Carbohydrates represent the primary nutrient that is readily converted into glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream,” says Carla Duenas, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) with Baptist Community Health. South Florida Department of Health. “Carbohydrates provide the energy your muscles and brain need to function.”
Duenas says carbs also provide important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. However, when eaten in excess — and not as part of a balanced meal — she says carbs can easily trigger spikes in blood sugar, leading to health issues like weight gain and stamina. ‘insulin.
“Choosing the right carbs — and consuming the appropriate serving size for your needs — is important if you want to include them in your daily diet,” Duenas says, adding that there are “simple” and “complex” carbs. “Some carbs are better than others,” she warns.
Duenas says simple carbs are the ones that can be quickly broken down into energy, which more easily raises blood sugar. These include natural foods, such as fruit and milk, and products containing refined sugars, such as cookies, breads and other desserts, as well as sugary drinks. The natural sugars found in whole fruits are considered healthy when you eat them, as opposed to consuming their juice, because they’re loaded with fiber, antioxidants and other important nutrients, she says.
Unsurprisingly, products containing refined sugars are the least nutritious, she says. On average, Americans get about 13% of their daily calories from added sugars, the sweets that many people add to their coffee or top the ingredient list of many sugary drinks. “These simple carbs — especially sugary sodas and other beverages — have really contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States,” Duenas says.
Known as “healthy carbs” because they tend to be more nutritious, complex carbs take longer to convert to glucose, either due to their molecular structure or because they are high in fiber , which Duenas says helps slow carb digestion rates and increase blood flow. sugars.
“Most of us probably know what healthy carbs are,” Duenas says. “These include plant foods that provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as phytochemicals such as those found in whole grains, beans and starches.”
Whole grains vs. Refined grains
Whole grains are healthier than refined grains, according to Duenas, because they are in their original state, which is the seed, or kernel, of the grain. “Whole grains contain more nutrients than refined grains, which consist of a seed with one or more layers removed,” Duenas explains. “Some examples of whole grains are whole wheat, corn, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelled, and rye.”
Duenas suggests reading food labels and looking for brands that provide at least 5% fiber per serving. “When reading the list of ingredients, the key word to look for is “integral” or “whole” in English, he adds.
fruit and juice
Some people avoid fruits and juices because they contain sugar or because they follow a fad diet that eliminates all carbohydrates. “You have to keep in mind that the whole fruit is different,” explains Duenas. “A glass of orange juice is not the same as a whole orange because it lacks fiber.” One orange will provide a small amount of sugar combined with fiber, she says, while a glass of juice contains the sugar of five to six oranges without any healthy fiber. “Fruit juices, even if they are not sweetened, are not the best option to drink regularly,” adds Duenas.
What is the right amount of carbs?
Factors such as physical activity, age, weight, height, and medical history can determine how much carbohydrate you should eat each day. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s “My Plate” guidelines, in general, about 25% of your daily “plate” should consist of whole grains or complex carbohydrates. Half of the daily intake should be whole fruits and vegetables, and the remaining 25% should be lean protein. It’s best to choose lean or low-fat meat and poultry,” advises Duenas.
Most restaurant menus now feature whole-grain options, Duenas says, which makes it easier to eat healthy while dining out. “Always ask if they have an option of pasta or brown rice or whole wheat crust,” she suggests. “It’s not the end of the world if they don’t have it – just make sure your meal also includes salad or veggies and a lean protein.” Unfortunately, adds Duenas, most restaurant meals are large enough to feed two people and contain too many carbs, making portion control difficult.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, healthy carbs with good sources of dietary fiber include:
- Whole grain cereals (unsweetened)
- Whole wheat
- Beans and legumes. (“Think black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas/garbanzos, navy beans, and lentils,” Duenas says.))
- Fruits and vegetables, especially those with edible skins (apples, corn, beans, etc.) and those with edible seeds (blueberries, pomegranates, etc.).
- Nuts and seeds. (“Try different types,” Duenas suggests. “Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, or flaxseeds are a good source of fiber and healthy fats, but be careful with portion sizes because they contain a lot of calories in your diet. a small quantity.” ).
When it comes to choosing carbs, Duenas says to remember that while the quality of the carbs you eat is important, so is the quantity. “Brown rice is healthier because it’s whole grain and has fiber, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should add more to your plate,” she says.