The popularity of high protein diets in recent years has created confusion regarding the consumption of carbohydrates. Women have been bombarded with messages that eating carbohydrates will lead to weight gain.
Popular diets such as the Atkins program and the South Beach Diet emphasize eating more protein and restricting carbohydrates.
It is important to understand the types of carbohydrates these diet programs suggest eating. They promote eating healthy carbohydrates. But many people become confused if they are not familiar with these programs and just assume that all carbohydrates are bad for you.
Eating carbohydrates is very necessary to overall good health. They are the body’s main source for energy production. There are both “good” and “bad” carbohydrates. The technical phrase is complex or simple carbohydrates.
Knowing the difference will help you to make informed choices on the best ones to eat. You want to always include carbohydrates in your diet. It is sensible to incorporate good carbohydrates on a daily basis.
1. Complex Carbohydrates: These are the good carbohydrates that your body needs. They do not make your blood sugar spike high or low the way bad carbohydrates do. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels create various responses in the human body.
For example, you may feel very hungry or very weak. As a result, people usually will seek out food immediately to counteract this feeling of unease. The foods most craved when you are feeling this way are usually sugar based “bad” or simple carbohydrates.
You will get a satisfied feeling initially after eating these carbohydrates. However, blood sugar levels will begin dropping again and you will feel hungry. You will again reach for more of these unhealthy foods to feel better.
2. Simple Carbohydrates: These are considered the bad carbohydrates that you should avoid eating. They are sugar based or contain white flour. Both of these will alter your blood sugar levels negatively. Because we are geared to seek a quick energy fix, these foods are very tempting.
The instant energy will boost serotonin levels temporarily and create a contented feeling. This good feeling is what people become addicted too. As a result, we consume excessive amounts of these unhealthy carbohydrates. They are also high in calories and very low in nutritional value.
Examples of Simple Carbohydrates: Any carbohydrates that are sugar or white flour based are considered simple. This can include foods such as white flour, baked goods, cookies, white breads, pasta, soda and candy.
If you do want to occasionally enjoy simple carbohydrates your best choices are white rice, pasta or a baked potato.
Sugar in Carbohydrates: Many simple carbohydrates also have added sugar. Foods that are fat free many times add more sugar and artificial sweeteners during preparation. It is simply a substitute for fat.
National averages indicate that Americans consume over 20 teaspoons of sugar daily.
This will obviously create weight problems for many people as well as increasing health risks.
Why Fiber in Carbohydrates is important: Simple carbohydrates such as plant based foods contain fiber. Fiber is important to the human body as it is very helpful to preventing blood sugar spikes. It also helps you to feel fuller and more satisfied.
20 grams per day of fiber for women over 50 is a healthy amount. Avoid white refined carbohydrates when eating whole grain carbohydrates. They are lower in fiber. Stick to fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, pastas and beans.
Which Carbohydrates to eat: Some of the best choices are fresh fruits and vegetables. Be careful to not overdo fruits as they contain natural sugars. Some fruits are higher in sugar than others.
Consume fruits that are lowest in sugar and highest in fiber content. Good choices are apples and berries. Citrus fruits such as oranges are very high in sugar and should be eaten in moderation.
Vegetables can even serve as an entire meal and are naturally high in fiber and contain very few calories and sugar. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes should be eaten in moderation.
Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index Factor: Although carbohydrates are simple or complex in nature, you should also look at the glycemic index factor. Foods are either high or low on the glycemic scale.
The index tells you how high blood sugar levels will rise after eating a particular food. It is scaled in comparison to eating pure sugar. You should be eating foods that are lower on the glycemic scale as they are healthier for you.
Quick rises and spikes in blood sugar levels are not healthy. Lower glycemic foods are also more nutritious and leave you feeling more satisfied after eating.
There are many glycemic index lists available on the internet for you to look at. When looking at the index, look at the number listed next to the food as well as the level of carbohydrates found in that food.
You need to also factor in the “glycemic load” of the food.
For example, watermelon has a high glycemic index but a low load factor. Therefore it will not impact your blood sugar levels negatively.
Reading Nutritional Labels:You should always look at the nutritional labels on food products to determine the carbohydrate levels. This will also help you to determine if it is a good or bad carbohydrate.
There are four main items to look for. These include: carbohydrates, other carbohydrates, sugars and dietary fibers.
Total carbohydrates: this shows the sum total of dietary fiber, sugar and other carbohydrates.
Other carbohydrates: this indicates the carbohydrates that are not a sugar.
Sugar: this shows the amount of carbohydrates from sugar.
Dietary Fiber: This lists the total amount of fiber in the food. Also make sure to see if there is a listing for “sugar alcohols”. These include items such as mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These sugar alcohols can cause stomach upset in some people so make sure to check on this ingredient.
Clearly there are good and bad choices to make when it comes to carbohydrate consumption. Knowing the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates is a good guiding point.
Also checking the glycemic index of foods will help you make healthier choices.
It is very important to always consult with your medical doctor before undertaking any changes in your diet or lifestyle, particularly if you are currently taking prescription medications or have been diagnosed with any disease.