Did you hear? Not all carbs are created equal! Although they can have a bad reputation, some are actually incredibly good for you. Foods like beans and nuts, sweet potatoes or oatmeal (complex carbohydrates) offer up WAY more healthy value and “bang” for your nutritional buck, whereas foods like white bread, soda and juices, cake, and even bottled pasta sauces (simple carbohydrates) do nothing but drain your system. Simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules, whereas complex carbohydrates (also referred to as dietary starch) are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. They are often rich in fibre, thus satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in vitamins and minerals.
Even though not all carbs are seen as healthy, you still need to consume carbs to live. Carbohydrates are the main source of calories in a healthy diet and are the primary fuel for the brain and muscles. Typically, about three-fourths of your daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. It’s also important to choose the best carbohydrate sources. That means two things: You want complex carbohydrates (that is, starches), rather than simple carbohydrates (i.e., sugars). And you want carbs that still have their fiber, like brown rice or brown bread, rather than white rice or white bread, where the fiber has been stripped away.
In addition to being simple or complex carbohydrate sources, foods can also vary in how processed they are. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are considered less processed and are therefore healthier, while refined foods such as fruit punch, potato chips, white bread, sugary cereals, candy and fried foods are considered more processed.
During processing, many of the nutrients and much of the fiber found in whole foods is often stripped away and certain problematic ingredients, such as fat, sugar, and salt, are added, resulting in a less healthful food.
Getting the Best Carb-Rich Foods
Choose whole, unprocessed foods from plant sources. Choosing whole fruit instead of juice, a whole-grain side dish instead of crackers, and fresh vegetables instead of potato chips will ensure you are getting complex carbohydrates, complete with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Remember also that all types of meat and eggs are essentially devoid of carbohydrates.
When buying packaged foods, check food labels for the word “whole” in front of the word “grain” and make sure that corn syrup or one of the other simple carbohydrates listed above doesn’t appear among the first few ingredients on the list.