Is carb really a four-letter-word in terms of health?
The short answer? No. Carbohydrates actually offer incredible nutritional value and can help us avoid chronic diseases like Type II diabetes. So why do carbs have such a bad reputation? We could answer this question with a detailed explanation of complex carbs vs. simple carbs, break down the molecules, etc., but that probably wouldn’t help you. Here’s what you need to know.
Good carbs like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains contain fiber—indigestible carbohydrates that help you feel satiated and clean out your digestive system. Fiber also helps slow the digestive processes preventing spikes and drops in your blood sugar helping you avoid diabetes. Bad carbs do not naturally exist in food. Bad carbs consist of refined or processed sugars that can be found in white bread and artificially sweetened foods and drinks. So how do you know if you are consuming good carbs or bad carbs? Here is what to look for on that nutrition label:
1. Total Carbohydrate. This number will give you a quick overview of the carbs per serving in your food. However, it encompasses the total grams of dietary fiber, sugars, and other carbohydrates per serving, so it may not help you as much as you think.
2. Dietary Fiber. This is the good one. The more dietary fiber, the better.
3. Sugars. This can be misleading. The total grams of “sugars” in your food can include natural sugars including fructose from fruit or lactose from milk or refined sugars like the infamous high fructose corn syrup. The best way to tell which is which is to look at the list of ingredients. The first three or four ingredients make up the majority of the food. If the first few ingredients are natural, you most likely have natural sugars. But if the first few have strange un-pronounceable names, high fructose corn syrup, etc., the sugars in your food are definitely refined bad carbs.
4. Other Carbohydrates. Other carbohydrates include natural and unnatural digestible sugars in your food. Again, rely on the list of ingredients for a better indication on the quality of carbs.
5. Sugar Alcohols. Not all nutrition labels breakdown sugar alcohols, but some do. They are usually found in foods advertised as “sugar free” or “reduced calorie” and are listed as lactitol, mannitol, malitol, sorbitol, xylitol and others. These are the carbohydrates that typically cause diarrhea, gas or cramping in some people so they are usually better to avoid.