Simple and complex facts about carbohydrates
Are carbohydrates good or bad? This is a trick question. This is because there are many types of carbohydrates and they all have different effects on our health.
So what is a carbohydrate? A lot of customers think of “bread” when I ask this question. They are often surprised that fruits and milk also contain natural carbohydrates. Vegetables are also a source of carbohydrates, both in the form of natural starches and dietary fiber.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. They can be in the form of sugar, starch or fiber. And their fibers can be soluble or insoluble.
I was then drawn to a review on this subject by medical experts recently published in the journal Atherosclerosis. Besides the fact that carbohydrates are the cleanest and most efficient fuel for our brains, muscles and nerves, here are some other truths about this food group.
– Carbohydrates such as whole grains and dietary fiber are good for keeping blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and weight within healthy ranges.
– More refined carbohydrates such as sugar and low fiber snacks have the opposite effect on our health when we overdo it. So we need to eat smaller amounts of sugar cookies and candy canes. Damn.
– Healthier carbohydrates provide dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest (so no calories!) And has other benefits. Foods that contain dietary fiber include whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Heavy consumers of high-fiber foods consistently have lower incidences of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, to name a few.
Certain dietary fibers called “probiotics” are fermented by good bacteria present in our intestines. Is it good? You bet. The beneficial effects of this process include better blood sugar control, reduced appetite to keep us from overeating Christmas cookies, and protection against disease-producing inflammation.
Does a high carbohydrate diet make you fat? This is still debated and again the type of carbohydrates we eat makes a difference. However, studies show that with unlimited access to sugary foods or sugary drinks, many of us will put on extra pounds.
What does this mean in the real world? Check your plate. Every meal deserves a serving or two of vegetables, fruits or legumes. Slice tomatoes or add salsa to your morning eggs. Open this bag of mini carrots to bite into them with your sandwich. Add a festive dose of green / red / orange veggies to your meat and potatoes. Snack on nuts or popcorn at the next party. In addition to sips of eggnog and champagne, enjoy a myriad of flavors of sugar-free waters. Bake candy cane cookies with your grandkids without feeling like you have to eat a dozen. And savor every bite this holiday season!
Quinn on Nutrition: Carbs: How Far Can We Go?
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