Discover what carbs are good for you

May 3, 2024
4 mins read
Discover what carbs are good for you Discover what carbs are good for you

In today's health discourse, carbs have become the scapegoat for a myriad of health issues, ranging from weight gain to cardiovascular problems. Consequently, many individuals are opting to reduce their intake of staples like pasta, bread, and potatoes. However, contrary to this negative perception, carbohydrates are essential for optimal bodily function.

Kelly M., a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and affiliate instructor at the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, emphasizes the indispensable role of carbs in providing the energy necessary for both cognitive processes and physical activity. Morrow points out that carbs also supply vital nutrients, fiber, and fatty acids crucial for overall health.

Yet, the key lies in distinguishing between different types of carbohydrates. This is imperative because carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose, and research indicates that aging bodies may struggle to effectively utilize glucose. Prolonged high blood sugar levels can pave the way for diabetes and other health complications.

Therefore, while the vilification of carbohydrates persists, it's imperative to acknowledge their indispensable role in sustaining bodily functions. Selecting the right types of carbohydrates can mitigate the potential risks associated with glucose metabolism, ensuring a balanced and healthful diet.

Processed versus whole carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are commonly categorized as either simple or complex, with simple carbs consisting of one or two sugar molecules in their chemical structure, while complex carbs are composed of longer molecular chains, typically found in starches or fiber. However, this distinction often falls short when determining which foods to include in one's diet, as not all simple carbs are inherently unhealthy, nor are all complex carbs necessarily beneficial. Complicating matters further, both types of carbohydrates can coexist within the same food sources. For instance, fruits contain natural sugars, classified as simple carbs, alongside fiber, considered a complex carb.

Rather than focusing solely on the simple versus complex classification, a more practical approach is to consider the distinction between processed and whole carbohydrates. Processed carbs encompass added sugars, white flour (and its derivative products), white rice, potato chips, and fries. These carbohydrates are rapidly broken down in the body, leading to a quick spike in blood glucose levels. Moreover, they are often deficient in essential nutrients and fiber, which, over time, can contribute to chronic inflammation and associated health conditions. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 revealed a correlation between high consumption of quickly digested carbs among older women and an increased risk of inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease.

Group of People Eating Together

Conversely, carbohydrates obtained from whole foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, are regarded as the healthiest option. These carbohydrates are digested more gradually, thereby mitigating the blood sugar fluctuations associated with refined carbs. Additionally, the fiber content in whole foods offers protection against various diseases and promotes satiety. Research published in The Lancet in 2019 highlighted the significant benefits of a high-fiber diet, demonstrating a reduced risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and related mortality.

Furthermore, resistant starches found in oats, legumes, and cold pasta and rice exhibit similar health-promoting properties to fiber. These starches resist digestion in the small intestine, thereby avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead, they reach the colon, where they nourish beneficial gut bacteria, supporting digestive health, immune function, and overall well-being, as emphasized by Nate Wood, MD, a chef and instructor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

What's the ideal carbohydrate intake for you?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, established by the Department of Agriculture, advocate for 45 to 65 percent of daily caloric intake to come from carbohydrates. For someone consuming 2,000 calories per day, this translates to 225 to 325 grams of carbs. It's advisable to primarily source these carbohydrates from whole foods, as recommended by Nate Wood. Additionally, it's important to limit the consumption of added sugars. The American Heart Association suggests a daily intake of no more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men.

pexels photo 1731535 Discover what carbs are good for you

While some may consider reducing carb intake, popular low-carb diets typically restrict carbohydrates to 25 to 30 percent of daily calories. Nate Wood notes that such diets can be effective for short-term weight loss goals. However, there is a lack of long-term data supporting their safety and efficacy, and many individuals find them unsustainable, often regaining lost weight.

Contrary to common belief, most individuals with blood glucose issues, including diabetes, do not necessarily need to adopt a low-carb diet. Kelly Morrow points out that one of the most extensively studied diets for metabolic health, the Mediterranean diet, derives 40 to 50 percent of its calories from carbohydrates. Nonetheless, dietary requirements vary based on individual health, body composition, and activity level. It's essential to tailor dietary choices accordingly.

Stay organized and monitor your progress

Counting every single carbohydrate consumed isn't necessary. Instead, incorporating these straightforward strategies into your dietary habits can promote better health:

1. Opt for Whole Grains: Research published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2021 indicates that middle-aged and older adults who consume at least three servings of whole grains daily experience smaller increases in blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and waist size over an 18-year period compared to those who consume less than half a serving.

2. Prioritize Fruits and Vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables are lower in carbohydrates, such as spinach (1 gram per cup), broccoli (6 grams per cup), and strawberries (11 grams per cup). However, it's unnecessary to avoid those with higher starch and sugar content, such as potatoes (26 grams per cup) or grapes (27 grams per cup). Kelly Morrow advises paying attention to portion sizes.

3. Incorporate Plant-Based Protein: Beans, nuts, and tofu provide protein alongside carbohydrates. A 2024 study revealed that women who consumed more plant-based protein exhibited reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes as they aged.

4. Pair Carbs with Protein and/or Fat: Combining carbohydrates with protein and/or fat can slow down digestion, leading to more stable blood sugar levels. For example, if you're having crackers or pretzels, accompany them with cheese, peanut butter, or hummus.

5. Identify Sneaky Added Sugars: Keep an eye out for hidden added sugars in foods such as sugar, syrups, and fruit juice, which contribute calories and carbohydrates but offer minimal nutritional value. Diets high in added sugars increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and frailty. It's important to check the “added sugars” line on Nutrition Facts labels, not only on obvious treats but also on seemingly innocuous items like cereal, pasta sauce, salad dressing, and bread.

Leave your vote


Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.

Don't Miss