There is so much talk about them, so much controversy over these little things most of us love so much – the ever-popular carbohydrate.
Some diets suggest eliminating them all, while others propose we eat only them! How can this be? Three things we can learn from this is that: first, the body is amazingly adaptable as we can really “survive” off of almost anything; second, everyone’s body is unique and there doesn’t seem to be a one size fits all approach; and third, we’ve still got a lot to learn in the field of nutrition and health.
Carbs get so much attention because they impact how we metabolize most of the other nutrients we eat. In addition, they control how we burn fat. If you happen to be interested in playing around with your carbohydrate intake, the first step is to understand where to find them. Carbohydrates include sugars and starches. They provide the body with easy energy, and in those with excess body fat, they often promote fat storage. Carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy, grains, sweets, and processed foods.
Let’s start with fruit. We’ve been told that to eat a healthy diet we need to eat 3-4 servings of fruit a day. Think of fruit like candy with a multi-vitamin/fiber attached to it. Definitely a better option than candy, but metabolically the sugar in the fruit affects the body similarly. Think of fruit juice like a pack of Skittles melted down into liquid form with some added vitamins. Images of the “ideal” breakfast are permanently etched into our minds – the iconic bowl of Raisin Bran cereal with milk and a glass of juice on the side. This breakfast is pretty much all carbohydrate/sugar totaling in at a whopping 20 teaspoons of sugar for an average serving. No matter what your wellness goals are, this isn’t going to get you the health or longevity you’re searching for. If fruit is an important aspect of your diet, go for berries ... and ditch the cereal.
Although some of us might not like them, there is no way around it – if you want to be the healthiest version of yourself, you’ll want to eat some vegetables. Many people aren’t aware that all vegetables are actually carbohydrates. Most non-starchy veggies aren’t high in sugar, though, and provide a lot of fiber and antioxidants which is a thumbs up on all accounts. Examples of these include broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, salads, zucchini, mushrooms and many more. Embrace your veggies- the more color the better.
Non-starchy veggies are also carbohydrates. Examples are carrots, beets, winter squash, parsnips and sweet and white potatoes. Remember this: anything that grows underground is usually a high-sugar source to support the plant up above it. If you happen to be watching your carbohydrate/sugar consumption, take these foods into consideration. Quick note: Beans, corn, and peas are not vegetables, and are fairly dense sources of carbohydrates.
Dairy can also include some carbs, but it depends on what you choose. Milk, for example, is pretty darn high in sugar. Milk’s purpose is to support a baby calf or another baby animal that is in growth mode. Most adults I’ve seen lately are wanting to avoid growth mode! Flavored yogurts, including vanilla, are unbelievable in sugar content, often equivalent to amounts found in ice cream. If you eat flavored yogurt, you might as well be eating a scoop of your favorite frozen dessert. All of those fancy non-dairy flavored yogurts fall right in there as well.
Another food group to bring attention to is grains. Consider grains such as oats, bread, pasta, rice, cereals and crackers a dessert, even the whole grain varieties. Avoid the “whites” in your diet and any processed food as they are particularly loaded with sugar. “Grain-free” diets are gaining popularity but watch out as many grain-free substitutes are just as high in carbohydrates as their original counterparts.
And the last group of carbohydrates we all know and recognize are the junk foods: sweet drinks, candies and desserts. Because of its addicting qualities, manufacturers add sugar to pretty much everything, not only these well-known high-sugar foods. My goal with this column is not to recommend we never eat any of the foods above, yet to become aware of where sugars and carbs come from while recognizing which foods might be triggers for overeating. We also need to be cognizant of our unique carbohydrate tolerance level (the amount of carbs/sugar we can eat daily and still feel our best) and then navigate our eating situations to support this always with our best health in mind.
Ashley Lucas has a doctorate in sports nutrition and chronic disease. She is also a registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the founder and owner of PHD Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. She can be reached at 764-4133.