Nutrition Corner: Figuring Out Carbohydrates


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By Emily G. Samuels, MS, RD, LDN
Bariatric Registered Dietitian at BIDMC

 

Carbohydrates. We love them. We hate them. We are afraid of them.

But how much do we really know about them? In the world of trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, how do we not get lost in the conflicting messages about carbohydrates?

  • Do you ever fear admitting that you eat carbs?
  • Do you worry that if you start eating carbs, you will never stop?
  • Do you wish you understood carbs better?

Here is some information that will hopefully help you better understand — and feel better about eating — carbohydrates.

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are energy-producing macronutrients that provide fuel to our body. They break down into simple forms of sugar, and play a crucial role in helping our energy system and brain run efficiently and smoothly. And, they are the only macronutrient that begins to break down in our mouth. It is perhaps the terrible “s” word, sugar, that makes us wonder if carbohydrates are good for our bodies or not.

Carbohydrates can be found in a wide selection of foods that vary greatly in size, color, shape and taste. They fall into a few major categories:

  • Raw foods: fruits, vegetables
  • Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Grains, breads, wheat, crackers, pasta
  • Sugar, sweets, candy

Can Carbohydrates Be Good?

Yes — as long as you are choosing the right ones. In addition to adding quick energy to our body, here are some other key benefits:

Vitamins & Minerals

Fruits and vegetables are packed with low calorie vitamins and minerals. Want your skin to glow and your hair to shine? Fill up on fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds, while higher in calories, offer a lot of vitamins and minerals, too.

Caution: adding fruits, vegetables or nuts into smoothies may taste good, but can add a lot of sugar or calories into an already robust drink. Also, “juicing,” while packed with vitamins, will remove all fiber, making it simply juice.

Fiber

Because of the naturally occurring structure of fruits and vegetables (i.e., skin, fibrous layers, etc.), and hearty grains in breads, cereals and old-fashioned oats, we can get a wonderful amount of fiber in these foods. This adds bulk to the foods we eat, slows down digestion, makes us feeling fuller longer, and helps with bowel regularity.

Caution: look for breads, grains and cereals that are made with whole grains and no added sugars. Make sure to read the nutrition labels. Also, the more fiber you eat, the more fluid you need to flush it down.

Prebiotics

Did you know that whole grains help to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut? And, a healthy gut means a healthier immune system.

Caution: Again, look for high-fiber carbohydrates for your gut to “feed” on, to help support immune health. Also, protein will still be the most important macronutrient in your diet, so serving sizes do not need to be enormous.

There truly are a lot of good carbohydrates out there, so don’t be fooled by the less desirable ones. Continue to make good food choices, aim for a wide variety, and always try new foods. Lastly, remember that moderation and balance is key to healthy eating and a healthy you.

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