How do carbs fit into your diet? That’s a tricky question because not all carbs are the same. It turns out a lot like fats. In the same way that experts realized that the keys to eating fats are portion control and healthy types of fats, carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet, but best when they are in nutrient-dense forms and eaten in moderation. Here’s what you should know about different types of carbs, their effects on health, and ways to incorporate the healthiest carbs into your lifestyle.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient, just like protein and fat. They provide 4 calories per gram. Carbohydrates are the major source of energy for most people.
Carbohydrates aren’t necessarily good or bad. They are like a lot of other foods: best eaten thoughtfully and in moderation.
Carbohydrates are made of building blocks of smaller carbohydrates that are simple sugars. The types of carbohydrates are sugar, starch, and dietary fiber. They are all made up of simple carbohydrates.
Glucose, fructose, and galactose are examples of the simplest carbs. Simple carbohydrates have just one or two sugars bonded together. For example, table sugar is made up of glucose and fructose. Fruit has fructose as its main carbohydrate. Dairy products include lactose, which consists of glucose and galactose.
Starches are made up of long chains or networks of glucose molecules. They are considered complex. Still, not all starch is the same. The way the glucose is put together helps determine the way your body digests that particular starch and how your body responds to it.
Fiber has glucose, but the glucose components are put together in a way that your body cannot properly digest it. This is good because it slows digestion and help stabilize blood sugar.
Number of Carbs Per Day
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that getting between 45 and 65% of your calories from carbs is a good goal for many people when it comes to health and weight control in the long run. That works out to 900 to 1300 calories from carbohydrates on a 2000-calorie diet, or 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day.
Carbohydrates and Health
What happens when you eat a high-carb food? Your body breaks down the sugar and starch in the food into small components, usually glucose. Eventually, the glucose is released into your bloodstream. That raises blood sugar, which is fine for many people, but can be a challenge for people with prediabetes or diabetes who have trouble lowering blood sugar.
Different types of carbohydrates and high-carbohydrate foods have different effects on health. It is not a straightforward picture. Here are a few general tips.
- High-fiber carbs tend to be healthier. Beans, whole grains, nuts, and fruit are in this category.
- People who eat more whole grains tend to have a lower risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Low-fat dairy products can be high in protein and calcium, and they may be good for controlling weight when used in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
- The main type of carbohydrate in fruit is fructose, which spikes blood sugar, but fruit also has fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and is linked to health benefits. This helps solidify the theory that there are no “good” and “bad” carbs.
- Eating carbs with a source of fiber, protein, or fat can help reduce the spike in blood sugar that you might get from eating simple carbs or refined carbs on their own.
By choosing high-fiber, high-nutrient carbs, and keeping portions small, you can boost health and nutrition while controlling weight.
List of Simple Carbs and Tips to Keep Them Healthy
Simple carbs include sugars. Fruit and reduced-fat dairy products, such as low-fat cottage cheese and plain, non-fat yogurt, are nutritious sources. Still, when you do have fruit and dairy, check carbs and have them in moderation.
The following simple carbs are less nutritious, typically. You can try swapping lower-sugar products, or foods with more protein or fat. These are some examples.
- Chocolate and candy: Sugar-Free Chocolate and Sugar-Free Candy
- Cookies and Cakes: Keto-Friendly Cookie and Cake Mixes, or ready-to-eat Protein Cookies and Cakes
- Fruit juice: Low-Carb Protein Fruit Smoothies
- Jam and Jelly: Sugar-Free Jam
Netrition has all of these, and many more, sugar-free or low-carb alternatives to keep you from feeling deprived or from getting a sugar high.
List of Complex Carbs
Complex carbs include foods such as refined white bagels and pasta, but the healthiest sources tend to be whole grains or products with added fiber. These are some complex carbs that are naturally nutritious and available at Netrition.
- Quinoa Pasta, made with whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa
- Oats, including Steel Cut Oats, Rolled Oats, Oat Flour, Oat Bran, and instant Protein Oatmeal.
- Hot Cereal, such as Cream of Wheat Instant Whole Grain Cereal
- Breads, such as Protein Brown Bread, Whole Grain Flatbreads, and Whole Grain Pita
- Beans, including Canned Black Beans, Chili Entrees, and Bean Snacks
- Starchy Snacks, such as Whole-Grain Crackers and NOW Foods Popcorn kernels
- Cold Breakfast Cereal, such as Ezekiel Cereal
When looking for complex carbs, it is a good idea to avoid sugary foods and to instead choose foods without added sugars. You can also look for fiber.
Instead of thinking of carbs as good or bad, it is a good idea to think of them as foods that you can fit into a healthy diet. Choosing high-nutrient ones, such as unprocessed complex carbs, can help you do this. Netrition has many nutritious products to help you stay on track and enjoy your healthy lifestyle.