All carbohydrates are not created equally

Essential nutrient has many benefits if part of a balanced diet

By Natalie Trudeau

Carbohydrates tend to get a bad rap.
Many people are under the impression that carbs are only responsible for causing weight gain, increasing belly fat and causing problems for people with diabetes.
But the truth is carbohydrates are actually essential to our health and well-being.
Think of it this way: when our car is out of gas, it does not run properly. When our body is low on carbohydrates, it, too, does not function well.
Here are a few more things you need to know about this crucial, but often misunderstood nutrient.
The basics: Carbohydrates can be found in all fruit, grain products (rice, bread, pasta, oats, barley, bulgur, quinoa, etc.), starches (potatoes and corn), milk and alternatives (cow milk, soy milk and yogurt) and in simple sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, syrup, honey). In contrast, foods that have no or little carbohydrates are most vegetables and higher protein or fat foods like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, oils, butter and margarine.
Good carbs vs. bad carbs: While I hesitate to categorize any food as “good” or “bad,” some carbs are more beneficial than others.
Simple carbohydrates are generally less beneficial. They are found in various foods, such as white rice, white pasta, Russet potato, and in sugars and sweets like regular pop and desserts. Foods with simple carbs usually contain less fibre. As a result, eating these foods can cause your blood sugar to spike and leave you feeling hungry sooner.
Complex carbohydrates, meanwhile, are generally considered to be more beneficial. These include foods that are higher in fibre like fruit, whole grains like quinoa and barley and some starches like sweet potato and yam. Fibre has amazing health benefits. It is absorbed more slowly in the blood and will not cause your blood sugar to spike. High fibre foods can also help with digestion and decrease bad cholesterol in your blood.
Bread and carbs: Generally speaking, whole grain bread is considered to be a better source of complex carbohydrates because it is high in fibre. White bread and even some types of rye bread are considered to be low in fibre.
The best way to tell the difference is to look at the ingredient list. High-fibre bread will usually have “whole grain” (whole grain whole wheat flour or whole grain rye flour) at the top of the ingredient list. Low-fibre bread will usually have unbleached (white) wheat flour at the top of the ingredient list. This means the high-fibre parts of the grain have been removed during the milling process.
Don’t be fooled with dark rye bread. Some brands of dark rye bread are simply light rye bread with some added ingredients like molasses to give it a dark colour.
Carbs in fruit juice: Many people make the mistake of thinking fruit juice contains complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre. But that’s not the case.
To understand why, think about what happens when you make orange juice. As you squeeze the orange, the juice is separated from the pulp and roughage that contains fibre and other nutrients. In the end, you are left with just the juice.
Moreover, you also have to use a number of oranges to make a glass of juice. Have you ever compared the carbohydrate content of a regular cola with that of fruit juice? It is almost identical. This is why fruit juice is considered a source of simple carbohydrates and should be limited.
Craving sugar: : When we don’t eat enough carbohydrates during the day, our body often craves them later on in less healthy forms. This may be why some people reach for foods like sweets and desserts that are high in simple carbohydrates. Eating regular meals and snacks during the day that include a consistent amount of complex carbohydrates will help maintain normal blood sugar levels throughout the day and avoid frequent cravings later on.
Carbs and your diet: The best way to make sure you are getting the carbs you need (but not too much) is to fill half of your plate with vegetables, a quarter of your plate with a whole grain or higher-fibre starch (about the size of your fist) and a quarter of your plate with a lean protein choice. Add a cup of milk and a piece of fruit of your choice to complete the meal!
Natalie Trudeau is a registered dietitian with Centre de santé Saint-Boniface.
This article was first published in the Winnipeg Free Press in August 2016. Centre de santé Saint-Boniface gratefully acknowledges permission to publish it..