Since the start of low-carb diet fads at the turn of the century, carbohydrates have been getting a bad rap. Even the good carbs that help maintain energy levels have been unnecessarily restricted in diets. So how can we identify the good from the bad in our everyday foods?
All carbs start from a sugar molecule. The simplest forms, like table sugar, contain few linked molecules. But complex carbs, like those that come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, are made from three or more linked sugar molecules. All carbs are broken down by the body into single sugar molecules which are converted to blood sugar and used as energy. At one time dieticians thought that all complex carbs were good carbs, but science now knows it’s more complicated than that.
So when is a carb bad? To answer that, scientists created a system called the glycemic index. It shows how different carbs are digested and their subsequent effect on blood sugar. Carbs with a high glycemic index, like potatoes, rapidly increase blood sugars in the body. Carbs with a low index, like carrots, green beans and whole grains, are digested more gently and more steadily increase blood sugar levels.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, adding more carbs with a low glycemic index can protect you from a range of chronic health issues and help maintain optimal health. The school’s website offers these suggestions for adding more good carbohydrates to your diet:
- Start the day with whole grains. If you’re partial to hot cereals, try steel-cut oats. If you’re a cold cereal person, look for one that lists whole wheat, whole oats or other whole grain first on the ingredient list.
- Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks. Check the label to make sure that whole wheat or another whole grain is the first ingredient listed.
- Bag the potatoes. Instead, try brown rice or even “newer” grains like bulgur, wheat berries, millet or hulled barley.
- Pick up some whole wheat pasta. If the whole grain products are too chewy for you, look for those that are made with half whole-wheat flour and half white flour.
- Bring on the beans. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates as well as a great source of protein.
(Guest post by Jenie Altruda)