Which carbs are best to eat?
There’s a never-ending discussion in the food world on the topic of carbs. Are they good, are they bad, or does it depend? Ha, if you know us, you know the answer is usually “it depends,” so let’s break it down with R.D. Miriam and Cat Kom.
First of all, remember that no food is really “bad.” Your body needs all the macronutrients (Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrates) to function efficiently. Carbs are not your enemy. In fact, your body NEEDS glucose (found in carbs) for energy, and glucose even provides fuel for your brain.
All carbs are not created equal.
In a battle of Twinkie vs sweet potato, when we’re not analyzing shelf-life, sweet potato wins, but why? While you could get the same carb-count from a twinkie, a sweet potato, and a cup of rice, carbs aren’t the only reasons to eat a food. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (like brown rice) have loads of other vitamins and nutrients beyond just the carbohydrates. You’ll also get fiber, pectin, and sometimes even proteins which lower your glycemic load (glycemic load: how insulin responds to sugar).
Let’s dig deeper into the fiber topic.
Fiber helps food take longer to digest, so you’ll have less blood sugar swings and spikes. Typically, carbohydrates can take up to an hour to digest (way shorter for simple carbs like candy), whereas protein takes 3-4 hours, and fats 5-6 hours. The longer it takes to digest, the longer you feel full. When your carbs contain fiber, you stretch that 1 hour out longer. And extra bonus: it cleanses and scrubs your intestines, getting rid of nasty carcinogens that may be lurking.
Is it really this “complex”?
The Twinkie vs Sweet Potato battle really just comes down to Simple vs Complex Carbs. Simple carbohydrates are just that – the chemistry of the food is a single chain of sugars, which makes it “simple” to break down (hence the 15 minutes to digest candy). Complex carbs are loaded up with more nutrients and more complicated chains of sugars. Digestion slows, your body takes longer and works harder to break down the food, and you stay full longer.
What carbs are the best?
Don’t fear natural foods. (Yes, we even mean fruits). Starchy vegetables and fruits are going to be loaded up with all kinds of fiber and nutrients to fuel your body effectively. Bananas, for one, seem to get a bad rap because they taste so sugary, but when you look at all the “extras” like potassium, they are really still a great fruit option. But fun fact: they’re not the fruit/veggie highest in potassium. For a variety, try white beans, mushrooms, kiwi, and potatoes.
Grains are good. When you’re looking at pasta, flour, and other grains, look for the word “whole” at the beginning. Whole grain means the grain is still intact, and the nutrients are still present in their original form. Love pasta? Try whole-wheat pasta or Miriam’s favorite lentil pasta (surprise – it’s made from a bean, not a grain, and is delish!). Breads are ok too – look for whole wheat pizza dough, and whole-grain breads.
Speaking of bread and flour, consider whole grain/whole wheat flour as your best option (ya know… starts with “whole”). Then enriched flour (“enriched” means the grain is refined, and then nutrients are artificially added back in) and unbleached flour. At the bottom of the list is bleached flour (so keep it to a minimum since it’s basically a simple carb at this point).
And on the subject of grains, let’s chat for a second about rice. There IS a difference between white and brown rice. White rice (other than Jasmine rice) is typically “refined,” which breaks down the grain and takes away a lot of the natural nutrients. Brown rice is considered “whole” where the grain remains intact. You’ve still got the bran, the endosperm, and the kernel which contains protein and fiber.
Here’s the bottom line.
Wrapping it up, carbs are good if they’re the complex kind with lots of nutrients. And no food is bad, although there are certainly better options for most of the time. So, when you’re counting macronutrients and making a choice between 15g of “this” versus “that” carbohydrate, choose the more complex options and look to nutrients, not just carb-count. And keep some variety in your foods, y’all!
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