Thoughts from a broken mind
Quick tip: Good carbs from whole grains, vegetables, fruit,and beans all have a place on Harvard’s new Healthy Eating Plate
Don’t be misled by fad diets that make blanket pronouncements on the dangers of carbohydrates. They provide the body with fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function, and they are an important part of a healthy diet. But some kinds of carbohydrates are far better than others.
Read an in-depth article about how to choose healthy carbohydrates.
Choose the best sources of carbohydrates—whole grains (the less processed, the better), vegetables, fruits and beans—since they promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients. Skip the easily digested refined carbohydrates from refined grains—white bread, white rice, and the like— as well as pastries, sugared sodas, and other highly processed foods, since these may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
Try these five quick tips for adding good carbs to your diet:
2. Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks. Confused about how to find a whole-grain bread? Look for bread that lists as the first ingredient whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain —and even better, one that is made with only whole grains, such as 100 percent whole wheat bread. Or try this recipe for hearty whole grain bread.
3. Bag the potatoes. Instead, try brown rice, bulgur, wheat berries, whole wheat pasta, or another whole grain with your dinner. Read “Health Gains from Whole Grains” for a list of whole grains and their health benefits, or check out these whole grain recipes.
4. Choose whole fruit instead of juice.An orange has two times as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice. Looking for juice alternatives? See six ideas for low-sugar drinks, a recipe for a low-sugar fruit cooler, and a recipe for sugar-free sparkling iced tea.
Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.
The basic building block of every carbohydrate is a sugar molecule, a simple union of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Starches and fibers are essentially chains of sugar molecules. Some contain hundreds of sugars. Some chains are straight, others branch wildly.
Carbohydrates were once grouped into two main categories. Simple carbohydrates included sugars such as fruit sugar (fructose), corn or grape sugar (dextrose or glucose), and table sugar (sucrose). Complex carbohydrates included everything made of three or more linked sugars. Complex carbohydrates were thought to be the healthiest to eat, while simple carbohydrates weren’t so great. It turns out that the picture is more complicated than that.
The digestive system handles all carbohydrates in much the same way—it breaks them down (or tries to break them down) into single sugar molecules, since only these are small enough to cross into the bloodstream. It also converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose (also known as blood sugar), because cells are designed to use this as a universal energy source.
Fiber is an exception. It is put together in such a way that it can’t be broken down into sugar molecules, and so it passes through the body undigested. Fiber comes in two varieties: soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber does not. Although neither type nourishes the body, they promote health in many ways. Soluble fiber binds to fatty substances in the intestines and carries them out as a waste, thus lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or bad cholesterol). It also helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. Insoluble fiber helps push food through the intestinal tract, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation.
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