Carbohydrates have taken a real beating over the past 30 years. Any number of fad diets have called out carbs as the enemy. People have made millions writing books on the evils of carbohydrates keening cautionary gems like “avoid all white foods.”
However, carbohydrates are actually very important for our wellbeing. Here’s why. When we eat, our body breaks food down into 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein.
There are good and bad carbohydrates. Good carbohydrates have fiber. Bad (sometimes called ‘empty’) carbohydrates are those without fiber.
Foods with good carbohydrates provide two different types of fiber that help keep us healthy; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
We get soluble fiber from oatmeal, lentils, beans and many fruits. Soluble fibers become a thick gelatinous mass in the intestines and slow digestion. This process keeps blood sugar from spiking. It also helps move certain fats through the system before they can be absorbed.
We get insoluble fiber from whole grains, beans, lentils and most vegetables. (Note that beans and lentils give us both kinds of fiber). Those insoluble carbs just “move right through you,” so to speak. They’re important to maintaining healthy digestion and regularity.
But what about those empty carbohydrates? These include refined foods and sugars, and we all eat them. In fact, most of us eat too much of the empty stuff. Some (albeit delicious) examples include white bread and tortillas (which contain white flour), bagels, waffles and pastries, breakfast cereals, pizza, and many packaged or “convenience” foods.
“Damn!” you might exclaim. “But I like pizza!” That’s cool. Go ahead and eat pizza once in a while. The New Melting Pot even has recipes for making a healthier version of pizza at home. Just remember to do your body a favor and throw together a nice green salad to go with it.
“But high fiber foods give me gas!” you may then retort.
This can be true…at first. But rest assured, your body will adjust in a short amount of time. And, if needed, gas issues can be reduced by a number of over-the-counter products you can take with meals. Drinking plenty of water will also help. Another way to deal with it is to just relax and enjoy a good fart.
It is recommended that we consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day for maximum health benefits. Consider that most of us are getting less than 20 grams a day. Lots of fiber in our diet happens naturally when we adopt predominantly plant-based or a ‘flexitarian’ approach to eating.
Recent comparative studies have found a direct corollary between fiber consumption and lower weight, lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and lower risk of dying from heart or vascular disease, or breast and colon cancer.
So now that you know how to find the good ones, start loving your carbs!