We talked about fat in our last post. Let’s take a look at another macronutrient: Carbohydrates
No topic is as controversial as carbohydrates in the nutrition world. I’m not one to shy away from controversy. Even my opinion on this has evolved over the years.
I can go on and on about optimal ranges of carb intake. For now, I will just provide some basic guidelines.
Should you eat Carbohydrates?
Of course you should. Maybe not as many as you do now, but they have a place in any balanced diet.
Very low carbohydrate, high fat diets (also known as ketogenic diets) can be effective short term for certain conditions such as epilepsy and severe obesity/diabetes. However, this needs to be monitored closely.
Other than that, there are benefits to lowering carbohydrate intake as you age and on days that you are not physically active. Today, we’re focusing on the types of carbs you should eat and which to avoid.
The Good Carbs
To understand different types of carbs, we must understand their digestion. Carbs come in two forms: starches and sugars. In the body, starches break down into glucose, while sugars break down into glucose and fructose (or galactose in milk products).
Fructose is highly reactive (forming AGEs when reacting with proteins – not good). It has no special uses in the body. It is always shunted to the liver to be converted to glucose. High intake of fructose can be harmful. That’s why drinking soda with high fructose corn syrup is not something I’d ever recommend.
All that said, you want to eat carbohydrates that are higher in starch and lower in sugar. This will keep blood sugar more stable and minimize fructose intake, both of which will promote healthy weight.
Here are the carbs that should be eaten daily in order of priority:
- Non-starchy vegetables – Greens, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, etc. Eat lots of these. Every day. These are an invaluable component to healthy diet. The carbohydrates in these are negligible and should not be counted toward any daily carbohydrate goals.
- Safe Starches – These are highly nutritious, easy to digest, and provide prebiotic fiber to feed your gut bacteria. They include:
- White Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Yuca Root
- Taro Root
- Winter Squash (e.g. butternut squash)
- White Rice*
- Fruits – Fruits are very nutritious, but can be high in sugar, especially fructose. 2-3 servings a day are more than enough for a moderately active person. Prioritize low sugar fruits such as avocados, berries, melons, fresh figs, guava, and citrus fruits (like grapefruit).
*White rice is not very nutrient dense, but is easier to digest than brown rice and is a good choice in a pinch.
The Not So Good Carbs
There are some sources of carbohydrates that should be limited if not completely avoided to keep blood sugar in balance, inflammation low, and ensure optimum nutrient intake.
- Sugar – While some unprocessed sugars provide some nutrients (maple syrup, honey, molasses), most should be minimized. Look for these ingredients when buying food and beverages:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup or any other corn syrup
- Sugar (plain white sugar that you can find anywhere)
- Agave syrup or nectar
- Dextrose, sucrose, maltose, lactose (anything ending in “ose” indicates sugar)
- Junk Carbs (AKA Carbage) – These provide very little in the way of nutrients, adding unnecessary carbohydrates and calories, promoting inflammation, and generally just leave your body asking “why???”
- Conventionally made cookies, cakes, pastries, etc.
- Candy bars and protein bars that taste like candy bars
- Breads and pastas
- Low fat dairy products
- Flavored sodas and fruit juices
- Milk chocolate and other sugary chocolates (shoot for 70% minimum cocoa with only a few ingredients)
Where to Start
Try framing your meals like this: Make half your meal non-starchy vegetables, a quarter safe starches, and the other quarter as a fatty meat.
Make your breakfasts high in protein, fat, and non-starchy vegetables to keep you full and away from the carbage.
Always eat your carbohydrates with fat. This keeps blood sugar in check. See our last post for the right fats to eat.
Questions for you:
What are you favorite safe starch options and what carbage might you need to cut down on/eliminate?