The ‘How Many Carbs?’ Diet

High carb, low carb, no carb, good carb, bad carb?

Raise your hand if you’re confused about carbs. 

Let’s get straight to the point.  Does your body NEED carbs? YES!

When carbs are digested and absorbed, they form glucose.

Glucose is the primary fuel for the body.  It gives you energy you can feel and see the results of, like rocking your morning workout. And it does so much more on the inside of your body that you can’t see.

The cells in your body depend on glucose to function properly. It’s the preferred fuel for your brain, red blood cells and nervous system. And your body needs glucose to burn fat efficiently.

So can we agree that carbs are important?

Great! Now I can Load Up on White Bread and Chips! – Wrong!

Darn! There are good carbs AND bad carbs.

What are Good Carbs and Where do they Come From?

DSC_0572

The bulk of good carbs come from plants.  They grow naturally.

  • Grains – whole wheat flour, bulgar (cracked wheat), rolled oats, whole corn meal, brown rice
  • legumes – beans, peas, lentils
  • fruits
  • vegetables

We also get carbohydrates from milk.

A good carb also has a high fiber content. Although your body can’t digest fiber, it has many health benefits!

  • It helps reduce the risk of: obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease
  • It helps your system run smoothly (Yes, I’m referring to those digestion issues).

What are bad carbs?

Processed or refined food.

What is a processed or refined food?

Think white. White bread, white rice, and many pastas. None of these are a good source of nutrition. But why?

There isn’t a ‘white’ grain.  White flour is milled from a natural grain, like wheat.  And as far as we know, all rice starts out brown, (Cambridge World History of Food, published by the Cambridge University Press). In both cases, this means it’s processed to remove the outer husk, bran and germ to leave the the largest middle portion of the grain kernel which is high in starch.  The portions that are removed contain much of the dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrient content.

What does ‘Enriched’ Mean? It Sounds Healthy!!

Enriched White Rice

Enriched White Rice

Manufacturers add back, or ‘enrich’, the product with some nutrients that were removed during processing (iron, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin). However, they usually don’t add back dietary fiber or the other nutrients lost (Vitamin B6, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and zinc).

Yes, ‘enriched’ sounds healthy, but the ‘white’ product, processed from the ‘white’ grain has far less nutritional value than the original whole grain source.

Other processed foods include pretzels, chips, crackers, cookies and numerous other yummy treats.  They provide lots of calories, but no nutrition.

So What’s the ‘Right’ Amount of Carbs?

The RDA for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day, but most Americans eat far more than this.  An acceptable range is 45-65% of total calories from carbs.

What if I Eat Too Many Carbs?

Eating ‘too many’ and the wrong kind of carbs can contribute to weight gain, poor nutrient intake and tooth decay.

What if I Don’t Eat Enough Carbs?

In the absence of carbs, the body will break down stored fat and convert it into energy. This actually sounds good, doesn’t it? Some popular low carb diets are based on this! However, when the body is depleted of carbs for a prolonged period, there is the concern of developing a condition called Ketosis. (A ketone is a compound produced by the liver to help metabolize fat. If ketone levels become too high, the blood becomes acidic). Promoters of low carb diets say this condition isn’t dangerous, however, not everyone agrees. Some argue your liver and kidneys may be at risk.

At any rate, providing the body with a minimum of 50 – 100 grams of carbs per day can prevent ketosis.

Don’t be Afraid of Carbs, Just Choose Wisely!

I believe that carbs are an essential part of a healthy diet. The trick is to make educated choices.

Choose a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The ChooseMyPlate.gov website suggests you fill half your plate with these!

When choosing breads, cereal, rice, etc. look for terms such as whole wheat, whole grain, rolled oats and brown rice.  This indicates less or no processing, more nutrients and a healthier you!

Sources:

Insel,P., Ross,D., McMahon,K., Bernstein,M., Nutrition Fourth Edition. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett, 2013

Magee, Elaine, MPH, RD.  “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Why Carbohydrates Matter to You.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/carbohydrates

“What Foods are in the Grains Group.” ChooseMyPlate.gov. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html

Copley, Ann. “How to Cook Rice: Is White Rice Healthy?.” http://voices.yahoo.com/how-cook-rice-white-rice-healthy-3015110.html

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