Carbohydrates are a popular yet controversial topic among dieters, nutritionists and weight-loss experts. For decades, a low-carb, no-carb diet has been promoted as the "go-to" for weight loss, but the fact is that carbohydrates are essential and vital to good health.
Without carbohydrates, we miss out on vital nutrients that only carbohydrates can provide. The three main types of carbohydrates are sugar, starches and fiber. Often, many foods contain more than one type of carbohydrate, which can make it tricky knowing what to eat, especially if you are trying to watch your weight, your waist or your health.
Fruits, vegetables, breads, pastas, cookies and cakes are all carbohydrates. However, the impact they have on the body is different. Refined carbohydrates are processed carbohydrates, or simple sugars like sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup. Refined grains have been stripped of almost all fiber, vitamins and minerals. Foods such as white bread, white rice and white flour, sodas, pasta, sweets, cereals and sugary snacks, candy, pastries and desserts get digested quickly, raising blood sugar after eating.
Refined carbohydrates are mostly empty calories because they have very little nutritional value. Because of their lack of fiber, it takes a lot to feel full and can lead to increased cravings for more, setting the stage for a highly processed diet. Regular consumption of these low-fiber, non-nutritive foods has been linked to overeating and an increased risk for many metabolic disorders and chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Unrefined carbohydrates, or complex carbs, are those that are in their natural state, containing their original nutrients and fiber. Unrefined sugars are those found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Unrefined grains, or whole grains, retain the fiber, vitamins and minerals. Whole grain or multigrain bread, brown rice, quinoa and non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, fruits, beans and lentils are healthy unrefined carbohydrates that digest slowly, leave a feeling of fullness and promote good health.
Carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet. They are the body's primary energy source, and experts recommend consuming the majority of carbohydrates in the complex form - whole foods that are high in fiber and nutrients but low in sugar. It may be unrealistic to completely eliminate processed foods or foods containing added sugars, so aim to reduce refined carbohydrate intake and consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meet your carbohydrate needs.
Missy Corrigan is executive of community health for Sumter Family YMCA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 773-1404.
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