When you hear the word carbs, do you think of white bread and potatoes? Carbohydrates are often unfairly categorized as merely starchy foods short on nutritional value. But that’s not the whole story.
Many foods contain carbs, including fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, lentils, dairy products, nuts, and seeds. You can see from this list that taking carbs off your plate can severely limit your food choices. Instead of avoiding carbs, know which sources are most beneficial. Most foods have a mix of the three main types of carbs: fiber, starch (complex carbs), and sugar (simple carbs).
Fiber is a carbohydrate that passes undigested through your body. For good health, aim for 25 to 38 grams per day, based on your age and gender. Fiber is in:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains such as rye, quinoa, and brown rice and whole–grain wheat
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans
- Nuts and seeds
Some starches are better than others. For example, choose:
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Whole–grain instead of white bread or pasta
- Whole–grain or bran cereals instead of processed cereals
- Skin–on instead of mashed potatoes
Some foods, such as milk and fruit, contain natural sugars. Many manufactured foods have added sugars, including white sugar, honey, high–fructose corn syrup, and molasses. Since natural sugars come bundled in healthy foods that also contain fiber and vitamins, they are less detrimental than added sugars, which are the least nutritious carbs. The American Heart Association recommends you limit daily added sugars to 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. That does not include natural sugars, such as those in fruit. Some obvious packaged foods with added sugars are candy, ice cream, baked goods, and soft drinks. But added sugars are also in products such as spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, whole–grain breads, and coffee drinks.
Did you know?
Vegetables are carbs. And no healthy diet excludes all vegetables. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, squash and beets have more carbs than lighter vegetables, but they have fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just watch your portion size; a half–cup serving of starchy vegetables is all you need.