Are There Good Carbs?

Despite what you read in the newspaper or in the latest fad diet book or hear on the news, there are good carbs (carbohydrates). Surprisingly, you need to eat carbs every day. In order to live a healthy lifestyle (not dieting), 85-95 percent of the time, you need to make healthy food choices. Carbs could and should be a part of that eating plan.
The human body likes to use carbs as fuel. A body is very similar to a car in this respect. If you want to drive, you need to put gasoline into the fuel tank. After driving for a while, the gas gauge would read close to “E” (empty). When this happens, you need to return to the gas station for a re-fill. If you don’t re-fill, you and your car eventually end up on the side of the road waiting for a tow-truck.
Now, think about you – your body is the car. You want it to move and think. In order to do so, it needs fuel. In humans, the best fuel is carbohydrate. After you eat some carbs, you are able to proceed with all the activities for the day. When you get tired and hungry, that is the human equivalent of the gas gauge being on “E”; signaling that it is time to re-fill. If you don’t re-fill, eventually you will feel so run-down that you start to have trouble getting things done. Too low an intake of carbs and it feels as if you have lead blocks on your feet and you cannot find the energy you need to move across the floor. This often happens to people who go on very low carb diets, particularly when they try to do a workout. You can get energy from protein and fats. However, your body has other uses for those energy sources. Secondly, your brain likes carbs best as its fuel source (it is like getting the high octane gasoline for the engine of your car).
Having said all of that, there are differences in the types of carbs available in the fridge and pantry. There good and bad carbs. Good carbs will add energy, and also will give you other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, naturally existing plant chemicals that fight diseases as well as fiber. Bad carbs will give you energy, excess calories (leading to weight gain), no other nutrients, and can damage teeth (think cavities!). We call bad carbs “empty calories” for this reason. See below for a list of good and bad carbs:
Good Carbohydrates:
• Whole grains (e.g. whole wheat bread, whole wheat/oat bran flour, brown rice, high fiber cereals)
• Dry peas & beans (e.g. kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils)
• Fresh, frozen & dried fruit (without added sugars)
• Fresh & frozen veggies (without butter, cream & cheese sauces)
• Fat-free & low-fat dairy (low-fat milk & yogurt without added sugars)
Bad Carbohydrates (Empty Calorie Foods):
• White refined flour (e.g. white bread/pasta/rice)
• Fruit coated in sugar/syrup
• Cereals with sugary flakes, candy, sugared fruit
• Milk & yogurt with added sugary syrup/fruit/candy
• Junk-food (e.g. regular soda, juice, candy, cookies, cakes)
Keep in mind that although good carbs are the premier fuel for your body, you cannot have unlimited amounts. Most adults can have the following amounts of carbs to support a healthy lifestyle:
Fruit: 3 servings /day (1 serving = 1 medium fresh or ½ cup cut fresh/frozen or 2 tbsp. dried)
Veggies: 2 or more servings daily (1 serving = ½ – 2+ cups)
Whole Grains & Starchy Vegetables: 1-2 servings of whole grains/starches each meal (1 serving = 1 small white/sweet potato or 1 slice of bread or ½ cup peas/corn/mashed potato or 2/3 cup cooked rice/pasta)
Dairy: 2 – 3 servings daily (1 serving = 8 ounces of milk or 6 ounces of yogurt)
Does this mean you can never eat a slice of cake or couple of cookies? Absolutely not! Remember this is a healthy lifestyle, not a diet. Make healthy choices most of the time and have an occasional treat so you don’t feel restricted. Everyone knows that when you say “absolutely never” to a food, eventually you breakdown and have a very large quantity of this prohibited food. To avoid this situation, use that “wiggle room” (the 5- 15 percent of the time) and have a small treat 1- 2 times a week.
So, if you keep the portions in check, you will be fueling your body with good carbs in the right amounts. Don’t forget to treat yourself on occasion so you don’t feel deprived. This way you will be heading in the right direction- towards your goals of being healthier for a lifetime.
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick, Feeding Hills and West Springfield. If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 786-1500.

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