It seems like carbs and carbohydrate-rich foods are vilified as public enemy number one every few years. Carb-loathers shun fruit and pasta in favor of steak and poultry, eating bun-less bacon cheeseburgers instead of beans and rice. After all, carbohydrates do raise blood glucose, so it seems logical to avoid them. However, carbohydrates play key roles in the body, and there are lots of health-boosting nutrients and phytochemicals in carbohydrate-rich foods.
So, how can you overcome a fear of carbohydrates and build a healthful and balanced diet?
Remember that much of the world with lower disease rates than ours relies on carbohydrates as a major source of energy. The potato was so important to the people of Ireland that, when the blight devastated the potato crop, much of the country’s population was wiped out. In Southeast Asia, rice is an important dietary staple. Along the Mediterranean coast, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains are all eaten regularly.
With food models, photos, or real food, fill a plate with fruit, starchy and non-starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt and whole grains. On a second plate, add meats, oils and solid fats in portions to equal the calories on the carb-rich plate. You will be shocked by the difference in the amount of food that you can eat when you include carbs.
Visit the websites of the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR, for example, identifies foods, food groups, and food constituents that are important in cancer prevention.
Not all carbs are created equal. There is a big difference between oats and a toaster pastry, but so many people think that a carb is a carb is a carb. Focus on the quality of food that contains carbohydrates. explore the difference between foods that gush sugar into the blood and others that trickle it into the blood.
When in doubt, look at the science...
- The brain relies on carbohydrates for energy. Depriving yourself can lead to brain fog and poor performance on memory-based tasks.
- Compounds in carb-rich plant foods prevent inflammation, oxidation, tumor growth, etc.
- Whole grains are linked to improved measures of cardiovascular risk.
- Saturated and trans fats are both linked to reduced insulin sensitivity.
By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.