Dear Reno: What are carbohydrates and are some of these more healthy than others? Thank you. – R.K.
Carbohydrates provide the fastest source of energy to our body. During digestion, carbohydrates are changed to a simple sugar called glucose, which is essentially “fuel” that is needed for the body and its organs to function.
Carbohydrates, unlike proteins and fats, are converted quickly to glucose, giving the body an immediate source of energy when you most need it.
Choosing the right type can also supply the body with vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants needed to function properly and boost the immune system.
Simple carbs – These do not provide many nutrients. Examples are table sugar, syrup, honey, jams, jellies, etc. Fruit juices do provide minerals and vitamins, however, are very high in natural sugars.
Complex carbs – These provide essential nutrients and take longer to break down and form glucose, examples are sweet potatoes, oatmeal, popcorn, beans, etc.
Refined carbs – Brown rice is refined to produce white rice and wheat is refined to make white flour. Most of the nutrients, including the outer bran, germ and fiber, are stripped away in the process.
Unrefined carbs – These are foods in their natural state and may have been minimally processed: rolled oats and oatmeal, quinoa, barley, wild rice, brown rice, whole wheat bread, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest and absorb. However, it helps lower your risk of constipation, keeps your bowels regular, helps with satiety and keeps you full longer – this in turn helps lower your food intake and helps with weight loss and weight control. Fiber also helps lower your cholesterol and blood sugar management.
There are two types of fiber:
— Insoluble (does not dissolve in water). This is found in whole grains, whole wheat breads, barley and wild or brown rice.
— Soluble. This partially dissolves in water. This is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, pears and most fruit.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consumption of 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day. Read labels for fiber content in foods. Unless otherwise told, drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
Carbohydrates are found in a large variety of foods, so there is a lot to choose from and make healthy choices.
— Look for foods that are made from whole grains and are high in fiber bread products should have two to three grams of fiber per serving and cereals should have at least four grams of fiber per serving.
— Choose from unrefined complex carbohydrates such as: whole grain or multi grain bread products and cereals, barley, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat pasta, fruits and vegetables. These are also called nutrient-dense foods as opposed to less nutrient-dense foods such as white bread, white rice, cakes, cookies and desserts.
— Eating whole fruit - Peel and all is better than drinking fruit juice.
On a daily basis try to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables, five to six servings of whole grains, grain products, beans and legumes, two to three servings of low fat dairy and small portions of lean meats, fish or poultry.
Eat healthy, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, choose from a variety of foods and watch your portions.
Reno Jain , R.D., L.D., C.D.E., is a registered and licensed dietitian at Labette Health in Parsons. She will answer reader questions on nutrition and wellness. She regrets that she is unable to answer individual questions, but will answer them in her column as possible. Readers may send questions to: askreno@labettehealth.