Which of these have least amount of carbohydrates – a bowl of rice, loaf of bread or a soda can?
This is a tricky question.
Although all of these foods are different in nutrient content, some may be high in fats, vitamin or protein but when it comes to carbohydrates they are pretty much the same.
To understand this let us first know what are carbohydrates?
- Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
- Carbohydrates are the nutritional categories for sugar and molecules that your body breaks down to make sugars.
- Carbohydrates can be simple or complex depending on their structure.
During digestion, your body breaks down carbohydrates and provides energy to your body.
So when you eat any carbohydrate rich food the sugar level goes up from the normal level.
Our digestive tract does not respond to all carbohydrate the same. Let us understand with the example of starch and fibers – both are polysaccharides, both are derived from plants, both contain 1000s of monosaccharides joined together but they are joint together differently and that changes the effect they have on your body.
The way molecules in carbohydrates are joined or linked is the main reason that all carbs are not created equal.
Refined carbohydrates are linked with diseases like obesity where as unprocessed carbs are healthy to the body.
While one group of health experts vouch for a low-carb diet, another focuses on a good carb diet and giving up bad carbs. Yes you read that right – carbs are both good and bad
Carbohydrates are being both praised and punished in a different context and in parts.
Some carbohydrates are very good for health whereas some are extremely bad.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the composition of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate is composed of three constituents: fiber, starch and sugar.
Based on their composition, carbohydrates could be simple or complex. While fiber and starch are complex carbs, sugar is a simple carbohydrate. The two types can also be differentiated based on how quickly they can be digested or absorbed by the body.
Simple carbs are found in a variety of natural foods, such as fruits, veggies, milk etc., and can be sub-categorized as monosaccharide and disaccharide.
Complex carbohydrates are sub-categorized as a polysaccharide and are made up of long chains of sugar. Complex carbs could be found in white bread, cereals, whole grain bread etc.
Complex carbs are highly recommended for a healthy diet as compared to simple carbs – as they take longer to digest, are high in fiber and rich in nutritional content as well. However, this does not entail that eating all types of complex carbs (which also includes white bread, cakes, pastries) is good for your body. Similarly all simple carbs, too, need not be put in the ‘avoidance’ zone altogether.
For a healthy body pick the good ones and ditch the bad ones.
How do you know which carbs are good for you?
Good carbohydrates are the ones that are least processed such as whole foods, fruits, dairy products, vegetables or whole grains.
These good carbs not only provide us energy. They are also a good source of important vitamins, minerals, fiber and natural antioxidants.
On the other hand the highly processed refined carbohydrates like sugar, pastry, white flour bread, cereals or crackers. These are bad carbs to the body and they have nothing much to offer to us other than just calories.
It is important to focus on good carbs and limit bad carbs.
\A thorough understanding of these below factors is required to differentiate which foods are good for you and which are not. foods.
One of the main characteristics of any carbohydrate is its Glycemic Index (GI). GI is used to indicate foods based on the effect they have on blood glucose levels. Foods with GI level less than 55 are slowly digested, thus, resulting in a slow rise of blood sugar levels as well as the insulin levels. GI is also sometimes referred to as Glycemic Load.
The ‘International Table of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values is a ready reckoner to identify foods that rate high in terms of their GI values. Good carbs have lower GI levels as compared to the bad carbs. The bad carbs would result in a sudden spike in blood sugar levels as they tend to be absorbed quickly by the body.
Phytonutrients are the chemicals produced by plants, which provide them defense against the harsh environment. Similarly, these phytonutrients provide protection to those who eat plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes etc. The reason why they are very important is the nutrition we get from them cannot be produced by the body on its own. Each plant color corresponds to a distinct phytonutrient, and therefore it is recommended that on an average a person must consume 5 colors of food in a day.
Thus when you compare good carbs vs bad carbs – the good carbs are not only the healthiest source of carbohydrates and energy for your body but also are a rich source of phytonutrients. On the contrary, bad carbs are only composed of easily digestible carbohydrates.
The Dietary Guidelines suggest that women require a calorie intake of 1600 to 2000 calories per day while men require a calorie intake of 2000 to 3000 calories per day. With carbohydrates acting as a source of energy for the body, the amount of calorie content, too, differs based on food products consumed.
Similar to carbohydrate typology, calories too may be good or bad. As compared to a bad calorie food, good calorie foods make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Thus, a similar calorie count of a good calorie food not only provides your body the required energy but also keeps you satiated for a longer period of time.
The human body is unable to digest fiber directly. However certain bacteria present in the digestive system use fiber to produce fatty acids, which are then used by the body cells as energy. Studies have also indicated that foods rich in fiber content are effective in improving the metabolic health and lowering the risk of rising blood sugar levels. Fiber not only helps controlling regular bowel movements but is also effective in controlling cholesterol levels.
Good carbs such as the whole grains, fruits, and veggies, contain fiber in their natural form. However, bad carbs, which largely includes processed foods, is devoid of any natural fiber in its content.
While sodium is required for normal functioning of the human body, its excess consumption might bring you at the brink of heart – related disorders. The AHA recommends a daily sodium intake of not more than 2300 mg for healthy individuals.
80% of sodium in food comes from processed foods or packaged foods which are also the carriers of bad carbs. Foods rich in good carbs, such as fresh fruits (apples, sprouts, beans) and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, celery), help in reducing the sodium intake by the body.
Summing up the Good Carb – Bad Carb story
|Good Carb||Bad Carb|
|Sources: fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, beans, whole grains, brown rice, chia seeds, quinoa, nuts, sweet potatoes||Sources: fruit juice, soda, cookies, pastries, white bread, regular pasta, frozen yogurt, potato chips|
|Nutrients||Contain a variety of nutrients||Low|
|Refined Sugars||No refined sugars and refined grains||High|
|Saturated Fats||Low||Sometimes High|
|Weight Control||Help in weight loss||Convert into fat cells – weight gain|
The Carb-Rich Diet
Well now that you know what good carbs and bad carbs are, and have decided to give up on all the bad carb you have been binging on – let us take you through on how to plan a healthy carb-rich diet.
- Reduce sugar intake such as soda, sweets, candies, cakes etc.
Chose foods that are high in fiber content, such as whole fruits, vegetables.
- Eat more of fruits and veggies in a variety of colors.
This ensures that you are consuming all types of phytonutrients, which help replenish your body with all the necessary vitamins.
- Start the day with whole grains. Ditch those breakfast cereals that come laced with sugar. instead; top them with fresh fruits for natural sugars.
- Include beans in your diet
Give up on your potato cravings. Around half-a-cup of cooked beans provides your body with 4-8 grams of required fiber intake.
- Give up bread, pasta, candies from your diet
- Check nutrition labels on products to manage the carbs you consume.
It also helps you sort the good carbs from bad carbs.
Carbs act as fuel for our body and have been proven to be a rich source of nutrition for our body since times unknown. Focus on a diet that is full of good carbs and avoids consuming those bad carbs as much as possible. A well-balanced diet, i.e. a diet rich in whole foods, along with good exercise and plenty of water is your go to for a healthy body and a healthy mind.
Happy ‘carb’ing !!!