Importance of Carbohydrates

Before we get into the details of types of dietary carbohydrates, it is important to know why they are important in the diet. Glucose is the broken down form of carbohydrates which provides energy to fuel all of your activities, even breathing! Extra glucose is stored in the liver, muscles, or other cells for later use and is also converted to fat. Did you know that carbs can assist in protecting against disease? Whole grains and dietary fiber from whole foods could potentially help in preventing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Carbohydrates, in the form of fruits and vegetables, give the feeling of satisfaction with fewer calories and can help contribute to weight loss.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates should make up around 45% to 65% of your total daily calories. If you are consuming 2,000 calories each day, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be coming from carbohydrates. This translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbohydrates a day. For those of us with type 2 diabetes, these numbers may be individualized to best control your blood sugars.

What Carbs are Best?

Despite all the benefits that carbohydrates provide to us, not all carbs are created equally. When trying to decide what type of carbs are the healthiest, there are several important factors to consider. For starters, we should utilize foods rich in fiber, along with fruits and vegetables with no added sugar. Whole grains are also essential, packed with B vitamins and other important vitamins and minerals that are not found in refined grains (empty calorie foods that can quickly spike blood sugar levels). Choosing the low-fat option of dairy products such as cheeses, milk, or yogurt will help limit the consumption of saturated fat and added sugar. Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are typically low in fat and high in folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium, but are also packed with healthy fats and fiber. Legumes can act as a substitute for meat that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

It’s also important to be aware of the added sugar content in carbohydrate foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest less than 10% of calories should come from added sugar each day.

Healthy Carbohydrates:

  • Vegetables: All of them. It is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.
  • Whole Fruits: Apples, bananas, strawberries, etc.
  • Legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.
  • Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Whole Grains: Choose grains that are truly whole, as in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
  • Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.

Not-so-Healthy Carbohydrates:

  • Sugary Drinks: Coca-cola, Pepsi, VitaminWater, Gatorade, etc. Sugary drinks can spike your blood sugar quickly and are high in sodium and artificial sweeteners.
  • Fruit Juices: Unfortunately, fruit juices may have similar metabolic effects as sugar-sweetened beverages. Try to limit these.
  • Pastries, Cookies, and Cakes: These tend to be very high in sugar and refined wheat.
  • Ice Cream: Most types of ice creams are very high in sugar, although there are exceptions.
  • Candies and Chocolates: If you’re going to eat chocolate, choose quality dark chocolate.
  • French Fries and Potato chips: Whole potatoes are healthy, but french fries and potato chips are more processed and higher in sodium
  • Portion control is key!

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