Sometimes carbs get a bad rap. We hear that that they are unhealthy or that they make us fat. Low-carb diets have become popular as a weight loss method or as a way to improve health. “Healthy” versions of recipes often swap out carbohydrate-rich foods for other ingredients. Are carbs really that bad, or is this just a passing trend?
We need carbs! Carbohydrates are necessary for our bodies because they are our main source of energy. Sugars (such as fructose and lactose) and starches are both examples of carbohydrates. They are digested and broken down into glucose for our cells, tissues, and organs to use. Excess glucose is turned into fat, which can be converted back into glucose later if the body needs energy.
BUT … Carbohydrates are “packaged” differently in different foods.
Highly processed foods have carbohydrates that are easily and quickly digested. Processed grains such as white bread and white rice do not provide the fiber and the full variety of vitamins and minerals that are in whole grains. Sugary beverages (including sodas and fruit juices) and foods containing added sugars are also less healthy sources of carbohydrates. These foods are best eaten in moderation.
On the other hand, whole foods provide us with a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients. Fiber is very important because it slows down the process of digesting carbohydrates. Fiber keeps us full, keeps our digestive systems moving, and regulates blood sugar. Whole foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are healthy sources of carbohydrates.
Grains are one of the MyPlate food groups and are abundant sources of carbohydrates. Whole grains are made up of three parts: the bran has fiber, the germ has healthy fats, and the endosperm has carbohydrates and some protein. Refined or processed grains only have the endosperm. To find whole grains, check to see if the first ingredient on the package ingredient list is a whole grain. Examples of whole grains include: ⇒whole wheat flour, ⇒brown rice, ⇒oats, ⇒barley, ⇒farro, ⇒quinoa, ⇒brown rice, ⇒bulgur, ⇒buckwheat, and ⇒millet.
Carbohydrates can be very healthy (and delicious!). Whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans are the best sources of carbohydrates.