Carbohydrates are so misunderstood. They often get labeled as nutritional bad guys and get blamed for everything from weight gain to diabetes — but it’s not as simple as that. Carbs can be complex.
At their best, carbs provide powerful nutrition in a low-calorie package, alongside filling fiber that helps keep you energized. These complex carbs are crucial to good health. You just have to get to know them. Let us introduce you.
Reality: carbs are fuel
Carbohydrates play an essential role in your body. After you eat them, they’re broken down into glucose, which is the preferred source of energy for your brain, organs, and all of your cells. According to the Dietary Guidelines, most people should get 45-65% of their total daily calories from carbs.
As with fats and proteins, however, not all carbs are created equal, and that can lead to misunderstandings. The types of carbs, along with portion sizes and how often you eat them, all make a difference to your health.
Keep it complex
Carbs can take the form of sugars, starches or fiber. Simple carbs (e.g., bakery treats, candy and pasta) are higher in sugar and lower in fiber. They’re absorbed more rapidly, which can cause faster swings in blood sugar.
Complex carbs (e.g., beans, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables) are higher in fiber and starch. Your body digests these carbs more slowly, which helps stabilize your appetite, blood sugar and energy levels.
Shifting away from simple carbs and toward complex carbs can improve weight management, blood sugar control, digestion, heart health, energy and mood. Here are five ways to embrace complex carbs:
- Experiment with more meatless meals that focus on complex carbs like beans, lentils and whole grains.
- Swap the usual refined grains (white bread, white pasta, white rice) for some whole-grain variety (quinoa, oats, whole-wheat bread, wild rice, buckwheat noodles).
- Reach for fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth. While there’s room in a healthy diet for the occasional cookie, fruit has natural sugars that satisfy cravings while providing fiber, vitamins and minerals that you need.
- Eat consistently throughout the day. Skipping meals increases appetite hormones and simple-carb cravings.
- If you have diabetes, a low-carb diet is not recommended. Spread small portions of complex carbs across your day’s meals and snacks.
More food myths to come.