When it comes to carbohydrate intake, I find that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It's about finding what works the best for an individual and his/her specific health needs. This post will describe what carbohydrates are, why we need them, and what are the best choices no matter what kind of diet you're on.
What are Carbohydrates? Carbohydrates can be described as simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars while complex carbohydrates are starches and dietary fiber. Sugars can be found naturally in foods (such as plain milk and yogurt, and fruit) or they can be added to foods (such as flavored milk, soft drinks, cookies, snack bars, and cakes). Starches are long chains of sugars and can be found in breads, cereals, pasta, rice, certain vegetables (such as corn, peas, and potatoes, beans, and peas) and lentils. Dietary fiber is typically found in highest amounts in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
Why People Need Carbohydrates. Ultimately, all the carbohydrates (except for dietary fiber) that a person eats will get broken down into smaller components (that is, sugars) in order for our bodies to use it. It is the sugar (more specifically, glucose) that provides energy and it's our brain's preferred source. You may use it immediately or store it in your muscles or liver for later. Dietary fiber serves other purposes in our bodies. Some help us in digestion, absorption, and elimination of foods while others bind nutrients such as minerals, fats, and cholesterol and help us get rid of excess. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommends that all adults and children consume a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrate daily to support proper brain functioning. Different recommendations are given for infants and women during pregnancy and lactation. As a group, the report recommends that adults get between 45 and 65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates.
Best Choices. This is the real question: what carbohydrates should a person eat? From my experience, this is what makes all the difference. Although I do find that some people are able to eat more carbohydrates than another for various reasons and achieve the desired results, no matter if a person is eating 60 grams of carbs or 260 grams of carbs daily, quality matters. Ultimately, you need to be able to find an approach that you can live with. When I'm planning meals, this is what I look for:
- Lots of non-starchy vegetables. These are choices such as asparagus, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, leafy greens, onions, and zucchini. Several cups per day of an assortment of these should make up a good portion of your intake so that you not only get some fiber, but your various vitamins, minerals, and other health components (such as phytochemicals) that help your body fight chronic disease. Some recipes to try: Shepherd's Pie Peppers, Mashed Cauliflower, Roasted Vegetable Salad, Autumn Vegetable Soup, Pesto Parmesan Pasta with Italian Vegetables, and Slow Cooker Pork Roast with Root Veggies.
- Include higher fiber foods, such as beans, lentils, whole grains, and whole fruit. I consider beans and lentils as more of a super food because they provide a pretty good source of protein along with a significant amount of fiber, which helps you fill up faster and that feeling stays with you longer. Whole grains and whole fruit also have more fiber than their more processed counterparts. So, don't just look for a label of "wheat" bread, look for 100% whole wheat and you're going to get more fiber. And for fruit, choose a whole apple with the skin (about 4 grams fiber for a small one) over applesauce (about 1 gram per 1/2 cup) or apple juice (0 grams fiber) As a result, you get a bigger nutritional bang for your buck! Some recipes to try: Slow Cooker Chili, Broccoli Cheese Soup, Fettuccine with Shrimp and Creamy Lemon Sauce, Pumpkin Pecan Baked Oatmeal, Smoked Sausage and Lentil Stew, and Tuscan Vegetable and Bean Skillet.
- Limit added sugars. Once you start eating sweet foods and drinking sweetened beverages, it's hard to go back to the unsweetened kind. But foods and beverages with added sugars are not as nutrient-dense as those without. That's because the added sugar increases the amount of calories in the food while not providing more nutrients. For example, a 6-ounce container of low-fat fruit-flavored yogurt is about 170 calories and contains about 30 grams of sugar (and almost half of those are added) while the same amount of low-fat plain yogurt is about 110 calories and contains about 12 grams of sugar (all from the milk itself). If you think your diet contains more added sugars than desirable, I encourage you to work on reducing them and re-sensitizing your taste buds! One way that I find works well is to gradually decrease the sugar you add in small steps (such as in coffee or tea) or mix a high-sugar food with a low-sugar food (such as flavored yogurt with plain yogurt) until you can get by with just eating the low sugar food. When you look at food labels, if the ingredient(s) that provides the sugar is not milk or fruit, it's most likely added (such as sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and anything ending in -ose). When I create dessert recipes, one of my goals is to limit the sugar in them. Some recipes to try: Oatmeal Apple Crisp, No-Guilt Chocolate Banana Brownie Bites, and Yogurt Crunch Cakes.
Written by Michelle Baglio of Optimal Nutrition and Health (Google+). The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only with the understanding that Optimal Nutrition and Health makes no warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information. Readers are advised not to use information in this post or others found on this website for the treatment or prevention of disease, and it should not be used in place of medical treatment or advice. Please do not reprint this post for distribution without my permission. To feature on your website or social media, please link to this post as the original source.