Good Carb, Bad Carb
What you need to know about choosing healthy carbohydrates.
Did you know that the term “carbohydrate” refers to all forms of sugar, including starches, fibers and simple sugars? And did you know that carbohydrates are organic compounds found in nature that contain single, double or multiple sugar units strung together?
Complex carbohydrates can be hundreds of sugar units long and taste starchy. Simple carbohydrates are only one or two sugar units long and taste sweet. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are naturally occurring in foods such as milk, yogurt, fruits, vegetables and grains.
Carbohydrate foods are a quick and essential source of energy for our body and brain, and provide vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals essential to health. But too often, the carbohydrate sugars found in foods are not all naturally occurring sugars, but also are full of added sugars. Added sugars can be both natural, such as fructose, or processed, such as high fructose corn syrup; and they are often refered to as "empty calories" because they do not supply significant nutrients.
An excessive intake of foods with added sugars can lower your intake of nutrients necessary for good health, and are associated with the developent of many chronic health conditions, including obesity and heart disease. It’s also noteworthy to mention that although added sugars are a health culprit, they do not travel alone and are often accompanied by saturated fats, sodium and excess calories.
In a step in the right direction, the new 2015 DietaryGuidelines for Americans set new recommendations that “added sugars” should make up less than 10 percent of our daily calories. This is not to be confused with “total carbohydrate” intake which should account for approximately 50 percent of our daily calories. For example, on a typical 2,000 calorie diet, 50 percent of the calories should come from naturally occurring carbohydrates. This equals 250 grams of carbohydrates from carbohydrate rich foods like milk, yogurt, fruits, starchy vegetables and grains. However, based on that same 2,000-calorie diet, only 10 percent of those carbohydrates should be in the form of “added sugars.” This equates to no more than 200 calories from added sugars, which equals 12.5 teaspoons or 50 grams. It’s no wonder so many people are confused. It’s tricky.
Calculating natural versus added sugars is tricky because the FDA food nutrition label historically lumps all sugars together under “total carbohydrates.” Soon, however, the new 2016 FDA food nutrition labels will indicate how many of those sugars are specifically from “added sugars.”
Typical sources of added sugars include soft drinks, candy and desserts, but there are also many unsuspecting sources of added sugar. Even foods touted as healthy such as yogurts, granola bars, cereals and jar pasta sauce can be loaded with added sugars. Until the new FDA food labels appear, be sure to read the ingredient label for hidden sources of added sugar. Regardless of how they sound, all of the following are examples of added sugars: dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, agave syrup, beet sugar, fructose, honey, maltose, molasses, nectar and sucrose.
The simplest way to consume healthier carbohydrates is to choose the ones that closely resemble their original whole form, such as whole grains, starchy vegetables, dried beans, fresh fruit, milk and plain yogurts.
Tricia Azra is a registered dietitian nutritionist, and has been practicing nutrition in the North Carolina region for 19 years. Azra is excited to mentor the Howe and Hill Spotlight Families for the Fit Family Challenge.