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Are you a carbaholic?

Carbohydrates.. the real story

I think that MOST people shy away from carbohydrates if they are trying to loose weight, especially if they are following “common weight loss trends” and not understanding how important carbs are for your body.

I found this information very helpful in explaining carbohydrates.

What are carbohydrates?

Your body uses carbohydrates (carbs) to make glucose which is the fuel that gives you energy and helps keep everything going.

Your body can use glucose immediately or store it in your liver and muscles for when it is needed.

You can find carbohydrates in the following:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Breads, cereals, and other grains
  • Milk and milk productssugar-sweetened
  • Foods containing added sugars (e.g., cakes, cookies, and  beverages).

Healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.

What are the types of carbohydrates?

There are two main types of carbohydrates:

  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Simple carbohydrates

Complex Carbohydrates

Starch and dietary fiber are the two types of complex carbohydrates.

Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source.

Quite a few foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as breads, cereals, and vegetables:

  • Starch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn).
  • Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
  • Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.
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Dietary Fiber

You may have seen dietary fiber on the label listed as soluble fiber or insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber is found in the following:

  • Oatmeal
  • Oat bran
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Most fruits (e.g., strawberries, blueberries, pears, and apples)
  • Dry beans and peas

Insoluble fiber found in the following:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur or whole grain cereals
  • Wheat bran
  • Seeds
  • Most vegetables
  • Fruits

Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber and nutrients. Whole grains refer to grains that have all of the parts of the grain seed (sometimes called the kernel). These parts of the kernel are called the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.

If the whole grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked (as in cracked whole grain bread or flake cereal), then the whole grain must still have about the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm to be called a whole grain.3

When whole grains are processed, some of the dietary fiber and other important nutrients are removed. A processed grain is called a “refined” grain.

Some refined grain products have key nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, which were removed during the initial processing and added back. These are called enriched grains. White rice and white bread are enriched grain products.

Some enriched grain foods have extra nutrients added. These are called fortified grains.4

If the whole grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked (as in cracked whole grain bread or flake cereal), then the whole grain must still have about the same proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm to be called a whole grain.1

When whole grains are processed, some of the dietary fiber and other important nutrients are removed. A processed grain is called a “refined” grain.

Some refined grain products have key nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, which were removed during the initial processing and added back. These are called enriched grains. White rice and white bread are enriched grain products.

Some enriched grain foods have extra nutrients added. These are called fortified grains.2

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Whole Grain “Buzz Words”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you try to make at least half of your daily grain choices as whole grains.

You can find out if the food you are eating is made of whole grains by looking at the ingredients list of the food label. The whole grain should be the first ingredient listed. The following are some examples of how whole grains could be listed:

  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • millet
  • wild rice
  • popcorn*
  • quinoa
  • triticale
  • whole-grain barley
  • whole-grain corn
  • whole oats/oatmeal
  • whole rye
  • whole wheat

*Popcorn is a whole grain that can have added fat and salt. Try air-popping your popcorn to avoid these extras. If you’re buying microwave popcorn, look for a lower-fat variety. You may also want to try the snack size bag to help with portion control.

Grains Galore!

Here are some explanations of less-familiar grains:5

Bulgur. A staple of Middle Eastern dishes. Bulgur wheat consists of kernels that have been steamed, dried, and crushed. It has a tender and chewy texture.

Millet. A staple grain in parts of Africa and Asia. Millet comes in several varieties and has a bland flavor that is a background to other seasonings.

Quinoa. A grain that has been traditionally used in South American cuisine. Its texture has been compared to that of couscous.

Triticale. A grain that is a hybrid of wheat and rye. It comes in several varieties including whole berry, flakes, and flour.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables milk, and milk products. Simple carbohydrates also include sugars added during food processing and refining.6 What’s the difference? In general, foods with added sugars have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars.

How can I avoid added sugars?
One way to avoid these sugars is to read the ingredient lists on food labels.

Look for these ingredients as added sugars:7

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup

If you see any of these in the ingredient list, you know the food has added sugars. The closer to the top of the list, the more of that sugar is in the food.

You can learn more about sugars on the food label by visiting How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts LabelExternal Web Site Icon

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2 Comments

    • Thanks for commenting! I think we all get those carb cravings. I just try to stick to the nutrient dense options and generally opt for berries, plums, or green apples.

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