Carbs: the good, the bad, and the…tasty?

It’s unfortunate that carbs always seem to get such a bad rap. Especially since they’re so tasty. I don’t think people realize that when they swear off carbs, they’re also swearing off fruits and veggies. Carbs aren’t just pastas and breads. Veggies and Fruits are considered carbs and they are one of the best things for you. In addition to fruits and veggies, grains can be really good for you as well if you know which ones to eat. I am going to save fruits and veggies for their own post so this post will really concentrate more on grains.

How much should I eat?

Everyday you should eat 6 ounces of grains. The rule of thumb is that you should make at least half of your grains whole.

What counts as an ounce?

– 1 slice of bread

– 1/2 hamburger bun or english muffin

– 1 cup ready to eat cereal

– 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

– 1 6 inch tortilla

– 3 cups popcorn

– 7 square crackers

– 3 graham cracker squares

– 1 4 1/2 inch pancake

Anatomy of a Grain

So first of all, lets discuss the anatomy of the grain. Not all grains are made equal. It’s important to realize that whole grains are the ones you need to strive to eat on a daily basis. These are the ones that are made from the entire grain kernel (the bran, germ, and endosperm. These offer the most nutrients such as b vitamins, fiber, iron, and vitamin e. Refined grains, on the other hand, are not made with the entire grain kernel. During the milling process, the bran and germ are removed leaving you with little to no nutrients. The picture below also explains this:

Grains are important to include in your diet because they contain so many nutrients that your body needs (especially fiber). One key thing to look for when choosing a whole grain is to check the fiber content. It should contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. Read nutrition labels carefully. Some may list 1 slice of bread as a serving while others may list 2 slices of bread as a serving. You want to make sure you’re getting as much fiber as you can into your diet.

What counts as a whole grain?

You want to choose foods that list a whole grain as the first ingredient on the ingredient list. These include

– brown rice

– graham flour

– whole wheat

– buckwheat

– millet

– bulgur

– whole grain corn

– popcorn

– whole grain barley

– quinoa

– wild rice

– whole rye

– whole grain flour

– whole grain cornmeal

– oatmeal or whole oats

Grains that are refined and do not offer you the nutritional benefits include:

white flour

– white rice

– white or wheat bread

– couscous

– white pasta

– grits

– pretzels

– most crackers and snack foods

What to watch for when choosing whole grains

Company’s are tricky. They want to fool the consumer so they will buy the product. So many will put bogus claims on their products because they know people will fall for it. So what you need to watch for:

– Brown bread: it is very easy to add artificial coloring to products so it looks like it’s a whole grain when in reality, it’s just a refined grain disguised as a whole grain. Company’s will add molasses or other ingredients to give the product a brown color but it definitely does not mean the product is a whole grain. Read ingredient labels carefully.

– A fancy name: Breads labeled as “multigrain”, “100% wheat”, “cracked wheat“, “seven grain”, “stone ground”, or “bran”, are often not whole grains. Again, read ingredient labels carefully.

– Whole grains listed after the first ingredient: IF you are not aware of this already, the ingredients in the ingredient list are listed by weight. Meaning the first ingredient is the one that the product contains the most of and the last ingredient in the list is the one that the product contains the least of. So if you see whole grains anywhere other than listed as the first ingredient, be wary. Percentages of ingredients are not listed in the ingredients list so if it’s listed second in the ingredients list, for all you know that grain could only make up a small percentage of the food. You always want the whole grain to be the first ingredient.

Why are grains so important?

Grains have multiple functions in the body. As listed above, they do provide a lot of nutrients that are needed by the body. But they also

– provide energy

– keep your digestive system running normally

– lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers

– reduce risk of some birth defects (when eaten before and during early pregnancy)

– maintain nerve and muscle cells

– keep your immune system healthy to fight illness

What is the glycemic index?

This is a concept that might be fairly new to some people. Like I mentioned above, not all carbs are created the same. They can be divided into 2 groups, simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are your fruits, vegetables, honey, and processed foods. These can be readily broken down and easily digested and converted into glucose that the body can use for energy. These same carbs are also considered high GI foods (high glycemic foods). The glycemic index measures how quickly sugars are digested, absorbed into the bloodstream, and used for energy. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are either starchy or fibrous so this includes your grains, some vegetables (green peas, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and some fruits that contain starches. The body breaks complex carbs at a much slower rate making them low GI foods and good sources of energy for individuals requiring energy for endurance activities. In addition, these foods are the ones that offer the best protection against heart disease and diabetes while promoting sustainable weight loss. Both groups of carbs offer nutritional benefits so unless you have a disease saying otherwise, it is important to consume both types of carbs. Glucose is our main source of energy and we get glucose from carbohydrates. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and converted back to glucose when the body requires energy. Although protein and fat can be used as energy sources, it is not recommended to rely on just these nutrients for energy. Your body was made to use glucose as it’s main energy source. Using protein or fat requires more work and puts extra stress on the body. So do not go on low carb diets or cut out carbs because you think they are evil. Just make knowledgeable choices when choosing which carbs to eat.

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