January 18, 2019

Don’t Be Afraid of Carbs – Just Eat the Right Carbs

eating the right carbs - family shopping eventBy Rebecca Alexander

Do you love carbs – or do you avoid them? You’ve probably heard something along the lines of, “carbs are bad for you.” But we’re here to tell you not to be afraid of carbs! Rather than asking yourself if you should eat carbs, the better question is – what kinds of carbs should you be eating? It’s 2019 and we want to let you know that certain types of carbs are good for you!

To set the record straight about carbs, we spoke with Kate Moore, RDN, LDN, Nutrition Program and Coaching Team Lead at Mission Wellness, to learn more about carbs – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Q: Let’s start from the beginning. What kinds of food contain carbs?

Kate Moore: Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes are all considered part of the carbohydrate family. When it comes to grains, the question is whole grains versus refined grains – which is essentially the good versus the bad carbs. If we focus on our whole grain family, then we have a complete grain – all of the components are there. Whole grains provide great nutrients, vitamins and fiber for our bodies.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we can also get carbohydrates from sources that are refined and stripped of a lot of nutritional value. White pasta, rice, bread and even gluten-free products fall into the “refined carbohydrate” family. Additionally, sugar has a lot of carbohydrates and is considered a “simple” or “bad” carb.

Q: What does a “good” carb do for our bodies?

KM: The range will differ based on someone’s activity level and their genetic makeup, but typically we want anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of our energy to come from carbohydrates. These good carbs are our brain’s No. 1 fuel source.

Our bodies get and sustain energy before or after a workout or even just from day-to-day activities from good carbs. How that breaks down in our body – whether it’s a quick spike of energy or long-term steady energy – is dependent on the carbohydrate source. On top of that, a lot of our carb foods, whether fruit, vegetables or the grain family, also contain a lot of fiber. That helps satisfy our long-term energy.

Q: Speaking of energy, what type of carbohydrate sources give a “quick spike” of energy versus long-term energy?

KM: For our blood sugar, we want to have that long-term, stable energy. When we’re having food that is highly processed and sugary, we’re fueling ourselves up for a quick spike of energy that will then drop. This causes us to feel really tired.

Those afternoon slumps can be a sign that we’re not having the best quality source of carbohydrates. When we have that long-term, sustained energy, it means that there’s more fiber and nutrients in our food, and we won’t have those peaks and valleys of energy. Instead, you’ll have stable blood sugar and that will generally make you feel better.

Q: What are some tips for people to shop for “better” carbs?

KM: Definitely shop the fruit and vegetable family and try to get food in its whole form. (More on whole foods versus processed foods here.) If you’re looking at products such as orange juice versus an orange – eating the orange is the better option, so that you can get the fiber and other nutrients with it. With orange juice, you will be getting more concentrated carbohydrates with fructose in it (hello energy spike and afternoon crash!).

I think the trickiest food to shop for is the grain family. When choosing grains, look for items like old fashioned and whole rolled oats – not instant oatmeal. When you’re looking at the ingredients label, the only ingredient should be “whole rolled oats.” Breads can be really tricky since packaging and labeling can be misleading. When breads claim they are “five grain” or “nine grain” and use other terms like that, the trick is to look for 100 percent whole grain breads. If you look at a bread’s ingredient list and it contains terms like “enriched,” it’s generally not a whole grain. Another tip when buying grains is shelf life: if it can hang out on a shelf for a while, it probably has other processed ingredients in it that maybe aren’t best for our bodies. Usually, the frozen section is a great place to go when looking for breads.

There you have it, foodie friends! Make your relationship with carbs a healthy one this year.

Kate Moore, RDN, LDN, is a Nutrition Program and Coaching Team Lead for Mission Wellness and Mission’s MyHealthyLife™ Wellness program.