Good Carbs, Bad Carbs — How to Choose?

If you think all carbs are evil, it’s time to set the record straight. You need carbohydrates for brain function, energy and so much more. The bad carbs are fattening and contribute to ugly diseases, but the good carbs have the opposite effect. You just need to choose your carbs wisely, not give them up for good!

Some carbs are pretty sketchy. You probably already know that refined sugar is bad news for your waistline and your heart, and can lead to diabetes. However, it’s not really fair to define carbs as either “good” or “bad,” since they all have some nutritional value—even if it’s mainly energy, as in the case of table sugar. It’s more realistic to view certain carbs as “small-dose” foods, and others as staples.

So which carbs are best in small portions only? White flour is a biggie. Found in white breads, pastas, pastries and flour tortillas, white flour only contains the endosperm portion of the wheat grain. That means it’s missing the germ and bran, which are chock-full of minerals, protein and fiber.

The more processed a carb is, the more nutrients it’s lacking. This usually means low fiber content, which leads to constipation. There are also hundreds of phytonutrients (plant nutrients) in whole grains. That means you’re losing the health benefits of plant foods when you reach for refined grains.

White rice is another carb to skimp on. Potatoes, even though they’re not grains and not always refined, fall into the same category. That’s because they cause your blood sugar to spike in the same way as milled grains, which leads

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to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.

So what should to eat? Just think whole-plant foods. Brown rice, wild rice, whole-wheat

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pasta, corn tortillas and quinoa, for example. Even fun snacks like popcorn and corn tortilla chips are whole grain, but you still have to watch out for fat and sodium content. All told, the USDA recommends getting at least half of your grains from whole sources—the more, the better.

Of course, carbohydrates don’t only come from grains. Other awesome sources include beans, fruits and vegetables. Like whole grains, carbs from most other plant foods are digested slowly and don’t cause dreaded blood-sugar spike.

Another reason to eat whole grains and fresh produce? You may lose weight. All of that fiber goes through your body undigested, making you feel full without adding to your calorie count. The slow, steady release of glucose into your bloodstream also means you won’t get that post-sugar-high crash that causes hunger two hours later.

A word of warning? Don’t be fooled by multigrain white breads or kid’s cereals that splash “Made with Whole Grain!” all over the package. If the first ingredient is not a whole-grain flour, you’re looking at an imposter.

Old habits die hard, and it isn’t always easy to make a switch. It’s OK to start with small changes: corn tortillas with tacos, or brown rice instead of white to go with that curry. Once your taste buds adapt, you’ll start to love the “real food” versions of what you already eat.

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