Some people claim carbs are fattening while others say they trigger cravings. But lumping all carbs together, such as doughnuts and oatmeal, is not helpful. Although most people are aware that carbs are in bread, cereal, pasta, potatoes, sweets, and soda, they may overlook them in legumes, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. So, skimping on all carbs could mean missing out on vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients important in preventing chronic dis-ease.
Quality Counts For Weight
All carbs contain 4 calories per gram. However, mounting research shows the quality of carbohydrate you eat could make a difference when you step on the scale. In a June 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, scientists examined 16 to 24 years of prospective data from 120,784 adults from three large, long-term studies. Sugar-sweetened foods and refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, were equally associated with increased weight gain.
At the same time, other research shows consuming high-quality carbs, including whole grains, dairy, fruits, and (non-starchy) vegetables is linked with weight loss. In the September 2015 issue of PLOS Medicine, a prospective observational study of 133,468 adults followed for 24 years showed that increased intake of starchy vegetables, including corn, peas, and potatoes, was associated with weight gain.
The 10-to-1 Rule
Here’s a shortcut for evaluating whether processed grain foods, such as cereal, crackers, and bread, are good choices. As a rule of thumb, look for whole-grain foods with at least 1 gram (g) of fiber for each 10 g of total carbohydrate. So, for example, a granola bar with 20 g carbohydrate and 4 g fiber is a better choice than a granola bar with 32 g carbohydrate and 2 g fiber.
Quality Counts For Diabetes
Research in the December 2015 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that carbohydrate quality impacts risk of type 2 diabetes. Scientists looked at data from 70,025 women in the Nurses’ Health Study over 24 years of follow-up. Different types of carbs had varying effects on diabetes risk. The more total fiber, cereal (grain) fiber, and fruit fiber people ate, the lower their risk of type 2 diabetes (20 percent, 29 percent, and 21 percent decreased relative risk, respectively).
But, in contrast, this study also found that eating a lot of starchy carbs, such as white bread, refined crackers, white potatoes, and corn, was associated with a 23 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t mean you should never eat starchy carbs, just exercise moderation. For exam-ple, the USDA Healthy Eating Patterns advise a person who needs 1,600 calories a day to limit starchy vegetables to four (1-cup) servings per week. Additionally, at least half of the grain servings you eat should be whole grain, so re-place some refined grains with whole grains.
With Almonds & Vegetables
1 Tbsp almond oil
¾ c julienne-style sliced carrots
¾ c chopped broccoli
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 c diced firm tofu
2 c cooked barley
2 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
1⁄3 c slivered almonds, roasted
Makes 4 servings
Nutrition Information Per Serving: 406 calories, 23 grams (g) total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 37 g carbohydrate, 19 g protein, 9 g fiber, 373 milligrams sodi-um.
“You’re less likely to overeat if you eat whole foods—whole grains, whole fruits, and whole vegetables,” says Melinda Manore, PhD, RD, a board-certified sports dietitian and a nutrition professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis. She explains that these foods digest more slowly and contain more water and fiber to help fill you up. On the other hand, when carbohydrate-rich foods contain added sugar and/or fat, it’s easier to over-do it. Take steps upfront to moderate your intake. For example, if you want a cookie, buy one cookie, not a whole box, Manore says. If you eat pasta at a restaurant, opt for a dish with a lot of non-starchy vegetables and marinara sauce, not cream sauce.
Fueling Your Active Lifestyle
“Research evidence is very strong that people who are physically active need carbohydrate,” Manore says. “Skimping on carbohydrate can really make exercise seem miserable. It will feel like you have to slug through it because you don’t have the glucose (glycogen) needed to fuel your muscles.” Similarly, you may struggle to get through everyday activities if you’re low on carbohydrate. Rather than skimping on carbs, make smarter carb choices.
—Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD
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