By Sheridan Wimmer on May 9, 2022
Did you know that if you cut out carbohydrates in your diet, you lose all joy in your life? OK, not entirely true, but we are a fan of carbs. Pasta, breads and potatoes really do bring us joy, but there are different kinds of carbohydrates, and there are a few we should be eating less regularly than others.
Carbs contain essential nutrients your body turns into glucose for energy — think fiber, starches and sugars. The main difference among types of carbs is in the complexity of their chemical structures.
DEFINING COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
“Complex carbs are less likely to rapidly spike blood sugar,” Karen Hanson, registered dietitian, says. “These healthy carbohydrates contain vitamins, minerals and fiber your body needs.”
For example, starches and fiber are complex carbs. Starches are great in providing a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time, and fiber aids digestion, regulates blood sugar and lowers cholesterol.
“Foods like black beans, chickpeas and kidney beans, as well as apples, berries, melons, brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread are high in starches and fiber,” Hanson says.
DEFINING SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES
“When we eat sugary foods, we usually get a burst of energy, but then we can feel tired pretty soon after,” Hanson says. When we eat carbohydrates, our bodies’ natural response is to release insulin into the blood stream to help absorb and thus lower the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood.”
Refined, or simple, carbohydrates can cause a more rapid increase in blood sugar, followed by a more rapid decline once the insulin does its job.
HOW TO INCORPORATE CARBOHYDRATES IN A HEALTHY WAY
Carbohydrates during Breakfast
“Oatmeal that is in the pre-packed bags are good for a quick meal but be sure to take a look at the added sugars on the nutrition label,” Hanson suggests. “Many times, there will be added sugar, in some instances four to five teaspoons. But making your own instant, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats and topping them with fruit or limited sugars is perfect for a breakfast that is filling and satisfying.”
Carbohydrates at Lunch
Lunch is a great time to reach for that whole-grain bread (see sidebar) and to make sure you don’t get that dreaded 3 p.m. slump. Use it for a healthful sandwich and add a side of fruits and vegetables.
“Another great option for lunch is to use a whole-grain tortilla for a wrap,” Hanson says. “Pile on that lean protein and your favorite cheese with a bit of light dressing.”
Find that perfect whole-wheat bread or tortilla by looking at the nutrition label.
“Make sure the very first ingredient is whole wheat, whole rye or other whole grain,” Hanson says. “It should say 100 percent whole wheat on the label.”
Carbohydrates for Dinner
There’s the belief that eating carbs in the evening is worse for you than having them earlier in the day, like for breakfast or lunch, but it’s more about being consistent with your carbohydrate intake and not overloading them with every meal.
“Your carb intake also depends on your activity level,” Hanson says. “For sedentary jobs and if you aren’t exercising much, be aware that you may not require as much carbohydrate for fuel as on days when you are more active. As always, the key is in moderation.”
If you’re concerned about eating carbs in the evening, however, try to swap potatoes for higher fiber and protein beans, brown rice, quinoa and, of course, fruits and vegetables are great options for a healthy dinner.