Preface by Dr. Cirino
Here is a concise article on carbs written by Tiffany Joy Yamut, RN, a registered nurse, blogger, and wellness writer. We have been sensitized to the word “carbohydrates” over the last few decades. We hear of the “low carbohydrate diet,” and many of us have worked toward the relative absence of carbohydrates in the diet to induce a state of ketosis and achieve weight loss.
However, not all carbohydrates are the same; some are actually quite healthy and important. As we consider these in a healthy diet, we must (excuse the pun) separate the wheat from the chaff. As a general guide, the closer the grain or vegetable is to its natural state, the healthier it is. Tiffany discusses the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates and what happens to natural foods when they are processed.
Table of Contents
Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs: How to Make the Right Choice for Your Health
Want to know the truth? Not all carbohydrates are created equal. While carbs provide glucose, the main energy source for the brain and red blood cells, they can either benefit your body — or do the opposite.
To achieve better health, it’s important to differentiate between good and bad carbs. How do they affect your body? Below, you’ll also find a list of high-carb foods that you should include in your diet and foods to avoid.
Complex carbohydrates are made of long chains of sugar molecules. They’re filling (which helps you feel full longer) and loaded with vitamins and minerals. This explains why complex carbs are called good carbs. Complex carbs are beneficial for individuals with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. Here’s why: Their chemical structures, including high fiber, cause glucose to be released into the bloodstream more slowly — leading to sustained energy levels.
Sources of complex carbohydrates are the following:
- Whole grains. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, bulgur, brown rice, and quinoa. Whole grains have all their three parts intact — the bran, germ, and endosperm. They’re good sources of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
- Fruits. These include apples, strawberries, and pears. They contain a soluble fiber called pectin, which can help promote a healthy weight and aid your microbiome and digestion.
3. Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are low in calories but are nutrient-dense. For vegetarians and vegans, chickpeas provide plant-based protein. There are plenty of ways to enjoy chickpeas. They can be roasted, mixed with sautéed greens, and stuffed into sandwiches.
- Broccoli. This cruciferous vegetable is rich in vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C, B6, B12, E, calcium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus.
- Spinach. It’s called a superfood because it’s filled with antioxidants that protect your cells from free radicals that contribute to many health problems. Spinach can be eaten raw, stir-fried, added to your favorite soups, and incorporated into meatballs. Additionally, it has one of the lowest levels of carbs of any vegetable, just 1 gram per cup.
As you could tell, complex carbs benefit your health in many ways. They’re also a nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Fruits, for example, are nature’s candy and give you the sugar fix you need without the negative consequences.
Processed Foods and Simple Carbohydrates
Not all complex carbohydrates are healthy. Processed foods are generally complex carbohydrates produced in factories. They are mainly derived from corn or wheat but lack the fiber in the original vegetable or grain. They are often supplemented with sugar and salt. This makes for a well-preserved, dry food that has a long shelf-life but limited nutritional value.
Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are made of shorter chains of sugar molecules. Because of that, they’re easier to digest and are therefore able to raise your blood glucose levels very soon. While complex carbs are healthier in general, carbohydrates derived from highly processed and sugary foods contribute to obesity and being overweight.
You would need to eat 10 cups! of spinach to get the same amount of calories as 1 slice of bread (carbohydrates in bread 15gm vs. spinach 10gm). The amount of fiber accounts for the difference in the portion size.
Try to avoid or limit these processed foods and simple carbohydrates:
- Baked goods. Cakes, cinnamon rolls, muffins, donuts, and pies are common examples. These desserts may taste delicious, but they are loaded with complex carbs with added sugars and devoid of fiber.
- Sugary drinks. These beverages include carbonated soft drinks, sports drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, and even fruit-flavored drinks.
- Breakfast cereals. Most breakfast cereals are empty carbs, and they lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes before lunchtime. This may explain why you experience mid-morning cravings after having that colorful bowl of cereal for breakfast. Why not make your own whole-grain cereal from steel-cut oats, almonds, apples, and ground cinnamon?
- White rice. Because it’s highly processed, white rice has been stripped of fiber and nutrients. That is why white rice is enriched with nutrients. The carbs in white rice also convert quickly into sugar compared to brown rice.
- Pre-packaged desserts. Minimize your consumption of cookies, pretzels, candies, and chocolates. Instead of eating these treats, opt for natural options like fruits or make your own desserts at home so you can control the ingredients you use.
Make Good Carb Choices Throughout the Day
Unless you follow a diet that drastically reduces carbs, it’s best to make smart choices with carbs. For most people, eliminating carbs can be very difficult and unsustainable. Not to mention, this kind of lifestyle is not for everyone.
One effective way to prioritize eating complex carbs is to stock your kitchen with them. This way, you’re left with healthier choices whenever you need something to snack on as cravings strike.
When it comes to your sweet tooth, go for whole fruit instead of juice. Whole fruit has dietary fiber and is free of artificial sweeteners.
And don’t forget that the foods you generally prefer are because of a taste, conditioned by behavior. By starting to add natural foods into your diet, you may realize that your taste and preferences change.
The next steps… (by Dr. Cirino)
Patients occasionally ask me how will they eat enough, because they think that I am taking all of the food they eat away. They may be looking at their usual foods, often high in processed carbohydrates, as a “this-is-what-I-can-eat-plate.” I ask them to work with what healthier foods they like and may not usually eat. After a few weeks, they begin to see that there are a lot of wonderful ways to prepare foods that they didn’t usually eat. To them, the only way they knew how it was prepared was unpalatable.
And if you are struggling in your health journey, remember that every person has their own narrative of how they strayed from the path of health and everyone makes their own narrative to how they will become healthy again. Health, and its counterpart Dis-ease, is like being in a gravitational field. When the body is in a state of optimal health, there is a high likelihood that there is emotional resilience. When one system struggles to compensate, other systems do as well.
The “mind game” is to write your future through each decision we make at the moment, the only space we have to create. The only way to change our health is to change our behaviors. How do we relate to food? Which foods do we crave in the moment of stress or hunger? How are we managing our stress and reactive mechanism? Food has a natural way of incorporating itself into our autonomic nervous system. Remember to start with what’s eating you in order to gain a better understanding of what you are eating and why.
Don’t forget to check out other posts by Tiffany Joy Yamut, RN. If this post resonated with you, please share it!