Although carbs have become the whipping boy of food in our society – something most of us equate with getting fat – eating healthy carbs is actually a very necessary part of a healthy diet. But what are good carbs?
(As always, you can find sources and “evidence” to support every opinion out there, so at the end of the day we each really have to go with what we feel is most credible.)
Breads, pastas, and rice were part of the foundation of the food pyramid for decades, but we all started to notice something didn’t seem right. It turns out that the food pyramid was actually initially developed based largely on eating cheaply, not nutrition as I always assumed.
Just because the old food pyramid wasn’t promoting healthy carbohydrates the way it should have been, do we really have to stop eating all these yummy foods that used to be the foundation of many diets?
Old habits die hard, as the saying goes – I’ve been used to getting full on this stuff my whole life!
The Atkins diet could perhaps be largely attributed to the beginning of the demonization of carbs, but it’s caused us to be afraid of even the healthy carbs.
The truth is that our bodies can operate off of
I’ve always taken issue with cutting out food groups. I believe we should be able to eat any whole foods in moderation, including the grains, without bad side effects. Food was created well, and our bodies were created well to process it.
What I failed to take into account in my younger years was the reality that foods have changed over time, and that means we either need to change the way we eat, or force our bodies to try to adapt to those changes in “fuel”.
While I do think a combination of both is possible, it’s important to actually recognize the changes and understand what we can do about them.
This video explains how wheat, in particular, has grown into something very different from how it started out.
Carbs are divided into two groups.
The bad, or simple carbohydrates, do include light bread, rice, and pasta, but also sugar and desserts, cookies, sodas, and sugary juices, and any refined or processed concoction.
These kinds of carbs will fatten you right up because they’re “empty calories” that don’t really contain good nutrients and it’s very easy to quickly overeat on them. They also tend to have a high glycemic index that isn’t properly balanced.
Food isn’t just calories, it’s information that turns on and off various genes and body functions.
Understanding Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load (and why you should care)
The glycemic index measures the rate at which foods are converted into blood sugar – you don’t want a traffic jam in your bloodstream from a bunch of high GI foods! But remember that GI is calculated coming off a fast, so the combinations of foods you eat will affect the overall GL (glycemic load) of your meal.
This video has a good quick explanation of glycemic index and load.
Good carbs are complex carbohydrates in their natural state, such as fresh fruits and vegetables that also have good amounts of fiber and nutrients.
A simple rule of thumb could be “Grown on a plant – eat it. Grown in a plant, don’t eat it.” (I saw a video that mentioned this, but I don’t remember what it was to credit it.)
This video is longer, but a really informative overview of understanding where different foods fall on the glycemic index, well worth a watch.
Foods with a score of 55 or less are considered low GI, while a glycemic load of 20 or more is considered high glycemic load.
Check here for how to calculate the glycemic load of a food.
I also found this video about how brown rice breaks down next to white rice – super helpful as a balanced view.
Don’t forget this awesome trick to make rice less caloric!
Also along those lines, cooking pasta longer results in a higher GI (so opt for al dente), and cooling cooked potatoes (red in particular) results in a lower GI (the starch becomes more gel-like, and therefore more resistant to digestion).
So what are good carbs? Just remember…
The issue isn’t really about carbs, per se, but rather about where foods fall on the glycemic index , and most importantly, what the glycemic load of the foods you’re eating is.
The glycemic index alone can be misleading because some foods that are high GI actually have a very low glycemic load, or overall effect on blood sugar. (If you skipped the videos, I highly recommend you go back and watch to get a better understanding of it all.)
Carrots, for example, are reported to have a GI as high as high as 92, but their GL is actually only 5 or lower. (Preparation and source do have an effect on the numbers because some sources list carrots as low as 16 GI.)
Your best bet for healthy carbs to eat is focusing mainly on vegetables and many fruits because they tend to have a lower glycemic load. Sigh. Isn’t the answer always just eat more vegetables and fruits? Why do we make this so complicated?! The more processed they are (like fruit juice that doesn’t have the fruit’s fiber in it) the higher the GI generally becomes, though, so keep that in mind.
You can search the glycemic index as well as glycemic load of different foods here to get a better idea of the best carbs to eat.
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