When you hear someone talking about a trending “low-carb diet”, you might automatically associate low-carb with simply having to give up that glorious bread of yours. What you may not realize is that carbohydrates come in many forms, not just processed, starchy grains. Carbohydrates are found in many plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and dairy. While carbohydrates tend to get a bad rap with the diet community, choosing the right sources of carbs can actually be incredibly healthy and beneficial. They are considered to be our main source of energy, as they provide the body with glucose. However, some carbohydrates such as vegetables are so much more than that! They supply energy yes, but they also deliver fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and a long list of other nutrients which are absolutely vital for optimal health.
Let’s review the three types of carbohydrates: Starches, Sugars, and Fiber
Foods that contain starch include:
Vegetables like potatoes, corn, some root vegetables, and lima beans.
Legumes such as peas, lentils, pinto beans, split peas, kidney beans, and black eyed peas.
Grains like wheat, barley, oats, and rice. In their refined form starches include pasta, bread, and crackers.
The grain group can be broken down into two subgroups: Whole grain or Refined grain.
“Whole” grain refers to the entirety of the grain kernel in its natural form. This includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is the hard outer shell of the grain. The germ is the embryo of the wheat plant. It is the most vitamin and mineral-rich part of the wheat kernel. The endosperm is the soft part in the center of the grain. It contains the starch that feeds the embryo as it grows. When you eat a grain in its whole form, you get all of the nutrients that grains have to offer!
If you eat refined grain foods such as crackers, pastries or bread, they often contain only the endosperm or the starchy part so unfortunately you miss out on a whole lot of vitamins and minerals. Refined grains also have more surface area than whole grains and are digested and absorbed at a much faster rate. They are therefore more likely to spike blood sugar levels and lead to blood sugar dysregulation issues. This can ultimately contribute to weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.
Sugar is another type of carbohydrate. You may also hear sugar referred to as a simple or fast-acting carbohydrate.
Sugar can also be broken into two subgroups: Naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.
Naturally Occurring Sugars
These sugars are found in fruit, milk and vegetables.
These sugars are typically refined and added to foods during processing such as with soups, canned fruit, cookies or dried fruit. On a product label the nutrition facts contain the number of sugar grams from both added and natural sugars.
Sugar has many names: white table sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, agave nectar and sugar cane syrup… to name just a few!
Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods. Fiber can be found in vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and nuts. When you consume fiber, most of it passes through the intestines and is not digested. You will not find any fiber in meat, fish, poultry, milk, and eggs.
Optimal amounts of fiber consumption is between 25 and 30 grams of fiber each day. Most Americans consume only half of what is recommended. Fiber helps to keep you regular, and helps to make you feel full and satisfied after eating. Fiber expands when consumed so just be sure to drink plenty of water to keep things moving!
Carbohydrates (also called saccharides) may also be divided into these four chemical groups:
In general, monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are smaller (a lower molecular weight), are commonly referred to as “simple” carbohydrates. Because of their small size, they break down quickly in the body and can raise blood sugar levels rapidly.
Examples of simple carbohydrates:
White table sugar
Oligosaccharides and polysaccharides are more complex. They consist of many monosaccharides linked together and are referred to as “complex” carbohydrates. Polysaccharides are the largest molecules of the carbohydrates. Because of this, they take time to break down, which means that blood sugar levels don’t rise as quickly. The chance that we actually use this energy, versus it being stored as fat, increases. Complex carbohydrates also tend to have more nutrient value in the form of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, among others. They are also a good source of antioxidants, which protect the body from oxidant stress, diseases, and cancers. They also boost your immunity.
Examples of complex carbohydrates:
Properly prepared whole grains
Nuts and seeds
All of these foods have many amazing qualities. Enjoy them regularly for heart health, digestive health, mineral balance, and more! Click through the buttons above to learn more about healthy carbohydrate choices from multiple food groups.