Are There Safe Carbs? Whole Grains the Healthy Alternative
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the years. There are simple carbs, complex carbs, whole grains, unrefined complex starches, fibrous carbohydrates and the list goes on to describe this vital macronutrient. Regardless of what you have heard to the contrary, carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy nutrition plan. However, not all carbs are created equally – specifically whole grains.
What Are the Health Benefits of Whole Grain Products?
Whole grain health benefits include being high in fibre, which helps us maintain a healthy Gastrointestinal tract (GI). Whole grains are slower to digest which helps to control blood sugar. These healthy carbs are loaded with vitamins and minerals, improving our nutrient density and leave us feeling more satisfied, which will help control appetite and cravings.
What are Whole Grains?
Whole grains are just that … WHOLE. Whole grains are left in their natural state and are unprocessed. As a result of them being left in their whole and natural state, generally these carbohydrates are tolerated better, even by those with an intolerance to processed grains. Whole grains don’t behave in the body the same way that processed grains do.
Keep in mind, just because a product is listed as being “whole grain” doesn’t mean that it is an accurate or true description of the actual content within the product. You can go to any grocery store and stroll up and down the aisles to find any number of products listed as “whole grain”. However, most of them, located in the middle aisles of the grocery store, are extremely processed foods. Just because a food package says “whole grain,” doesn’t mean the product is a true whole grain food. Did you know that according to today’s label allowances, many products making the “whole grain” claim contain as little as 1% whole grain? Many products are listed as whole grain because they are adding small amounts of “whole grain corn” and “whole grain wheat” to the product, which are either indigestible or inflammatory to the GI tract.
So the moral of the “whole grain” story is just because it says whole grain doesn’t make it good for you. In order for the product to be truly healthy, it is imperative that it be unprocessed. So, what are good examples of healthy whole grains? Keep reading.
“So what’s the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs?”
Not All Simple Carbs Are Bad
Simple carbohydrates are made up of 1 -2 sugar molecules, so they have a simple molecular structure. Glucose is the simplest form of a carbohydrate. These simple sugars can be found in fruit (fructose) and dairy products (lactose). The carbohydrate that has given it a bad name is, of course, table sugar (sucrose). Just remember not all simple carbs are bad. Natural, simple carbs in fruit and milk are perfectly healthy.
Dairy products are a rich source of rich sources of calcium. Fruits are healthy and packed with minerals and vitamins; it is best to eat them in moderation, stick with vegetables which are complex carbs and will be an exceptional food source if weight loss is your goal. While they do provide us with healthy vitamins and minerals, keep in mind simple carbs should be consumed less often throughout the day.
Complex Carbs – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Complex carbohydrates are made up of sugars as well, but their molecules are strung together to form much longer complex chains. Just like not all simple carbs are bad, not all complex carbs are good. Complex carbohydrates are further broken down into the categories of complex starchy carbohydrates and complex fibrous carbohydrates.
Whole grains such as complex starchy carbs include rice, peas, lentils and beans, among others which are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre. Other examples include plain full flake or steel cut oats, amaranth, quinoa, millet, wheat berries, barley and wild rice. Yes, plain or in other words unprocessed, but you of course can add your own special touches or kick to the ingredients to spice it up! Their problem is that they are often refined or processed which means they are put through machinery that removes the high fibre parts (the bran and the germ) from the grain. Once the bran and germ are removed it takes on the properties of a simple carbohydrate and is processed by the body in the same way. You should stay away from refined or processed complex starchy carbs the same way that you would stay away from sugar. Think about staying away from white rice, white flour or anything that has been changed from its “natural” state.
Complex fibrous carbs tend to be green leafy vegetables which are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other micronutrients. These carbs are full of fibre, the indigestible portion of plant material, which keeps the digestive system running clean and healthily! These carbs are great for when you are trying to lose weight because they are very low in calories and it is virtually impossible to overeat green leafy vegetables.
Serving Size – Exercising Portion Control
Just because it’s good for you doesn’t mean you can eat all you want. A typical carbohydrate serving size is approximately 15 grams. The gram refers to the amount of carbohydrates in the serving, not the actual weight of the food. You know that steel cut oats are nutrient dense and delicious especially when you make tasty overnight oats in the fridge, but that doesn’t give you authorization to overeat. When you overeat, no matter what you are eating, you will gain weight.
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Cathie Glennon – BCRPA/SFL, Rehabilitation Specialist, Pharm Tech (Level 3)