March is National Nutrition Month, so we’re opening with a mini-tutorial on carbohydrates.
Most people will concur that “carbohydrates are bad for you.” But just as there are good oils and bad oils, there are healthful and bad carbs.
COMPLEX CARBS = GOOD CARBS
“Good carbs,” more scientifically called complex carbohydrates, are important in your diet. Their chemical structure and density of fiber require the body to work harder to digest them, so energy is released over a longer time (this is the definition of “low glycemic”). They are:
High in fiber, vitamins and nutrients—“nutrient dense,” meaning more nutrients per calorie
Higher satiety (help you feel full with fewer calories)
Naturally stimulates the metabolism
For the most part, good carbs are consumed in their “natural” state or close to it. They include:
It’s easy to add good carbs to every meal—even in dishes more humble than lobster on quinoa. Photo courtesy David Burke Kitchen.
Beans and legumes
Fresh and dried fruits
Whole grains (i.e. natural cereals): barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc., including whole grains breads, cereals and pastas (see the full list of whole grains below)
Consume three to five portions of them daily.
SIMPLE CARBS = BAD CARBS
Now for the bad news. Many of the foods that are staples of the American diet are bad carbs. They are calorie-dense, not nutrient-dense. They include:
Refined flour: white flour biscuits, crackers, bread, pasta and pizza crusts; all white flour baked goods (which is the vast majority of cake, cookies and pastry), pretzels
Sugared foods: barbecue sauce (and other sauces), candy, desserts, flavored yogurt, fruit juice, jam, ketchup, soft drinks, sugared cereals and many prepared foods (read the ingredients label)
Sweeteners: brown sugar, beet sugar, cane juice, cane sugar (table sugar), confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, corn syrup, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, monosaccharides, raw sugar, sugar cane syrup, sucrose, turbinado
Empty calorics that convert to fat
Low in fiber and nutrients (calorie-dense, as opposed to nutrition-dense like good carbs)
High glycemic (bad for pre-diabetics and diabetics)
The high blood glucose levels generate fatigue
Why are these carbs bad? They’re:
Green veggies are a great source of complex
carbs, as well as other nutrition. This dish
can be served hot or with vinaigrette, as a
salad. Photo courtesy Ziploc. Here’s the
WHOLE GRAINS: CHECK THE LIST
Here’s an exercise for National Nutrition Month. The list below contains whole grains, some of which may not be familiar names. But they are available in natural foods stores and they are all delicious.
1. PRINT out the list below and put a check at the left side of each whole grain that’s part of your weekly diet. Use one check mark for each time you consume the grain during an average week.
2. REVIEW all the others, and select five whole grains you’d like to try. Check those grains on the left side of the list.
3. BUY those new whole grains and plan to try at least one over the next five weeks.
4. WORK more of the whole grains you already use into your meal plans. Replace potatoes and white rice.
Barley (but not pearled barley)
Bulgur (cracked wheat)
Corn (whole Grain corn or cornmeal, yellow or white*
Farro (emmer wheat)
Kamut® (Khorasan Wheat)†
Oats (oatmeal, whole or rolled oats)
Rice: black, brown, red, wild
Triticale (barley/wheat hybrid)
*Grits are refined and are not whole grains.
†Salba is a trademarked name for chia. Kamut® is a trademarked name for khorasan wheat.
‡Chia and flaxseed are best used sprinkled onto foods or mixed into recipes for extra nutrition.
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED?
Eat three or more servings of whole grain daily.
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2011, recommends that all adults eat at least half their grains as whole grains. That’s at least 3 to 5 servings of whole grains; children need a minimum of 2 to 3 servings.
Yet, the average American eats less than one daily serving of whole grains; some studies show that more than 40% of Americans never eat whole grains at all.
But you, an educated, concerned consumer/parent/whatever, can do the right thing!
For more information, visit WholeGrainsCouncil.org.