On the American stage, Atkins has been called a bad carb since the advent of low-carb, high-fat diets. Unfortunately, this is only partially true and has caused a lot of confusion in the community.
In fact, while some carbohydrates are bad, others should be at the heart of a good and healthy diet. But how do you tell the good from the bad?
Before making this distinction, it is important to understand that all carbohydrates, good and bad, are made up of different types of sugar and can be confusing. The main thing is how the sugar is packaged and delivered to the body.
What is the difference between a good carb and a bad carb?
The first difference is that good carbohydrates include natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Bad carbohydrates, on the other hand, are sugars that are “added” to processed foods and soft drinks and thrown into coffee or tea.
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The second difference is that good carbohydrates are “complex,” meaning that sugars are part of a complex configuration that contains undigested fiber in the human digestive system. This slows down the process and this is good because the sugars in a good carbohydrate enter the bloodstream gradually, in a “time-release” mode. This is important because the slow release of sugar slows down the insulin response. (As blood sugar enters the cells and blood levels drop, so does insulin.)
In contrast, bad carbohydrates are “simple” sugars that enter the bloodstream quickly. When this happens, the body misinterprets what is happening, thinking that too much sugar is coming. In turn, a large insulin reaction takes place to capture sugar and accompany it to the cells. The high insulin response signals the storage of body fat in the abdomen, especially as visceral (deep) body fat around the liver and other organs. Excess visceral fat contributes to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and eventually type 2 diabetes.
The third difference is that these good carbohydrates provide many nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and protein) and because they are replenished, you eat less. Poor carbohydrates are sugars that reflect “easy” calories, they provide energy, but do not contain nutrients and excess energy is stored as body fat. In addition, bad carbohydrates do not satisfy hunger, but rather encourage eating more, consuming more calories and adding more fat to the body.
Although excess body fat is a major cause of ill health, it is important to note that sugar is a problem in itself. Recent studies have shown that people of normal weight eat more “added” sugar, which doubles the risk of dying from heart disease.
How can I read food labels to choose the best carbohydrates?
In the past, food labels have not always been helpful when trying to make decisions about proper nutrition. Do food manufacturers specialize in foods that are harmful to health, especially those that contain fat and sugar, because they want to keep consumers in the dark? Of course it does.
Note that the portion size has not been indicated on the labels before. Therefore, if the label says that one serving of a product contains 100 calories (kcal), but does not say how many servings are in the package, you may be surprised to know that there are a total of four servings in the package. 400 calories. It’s especially high in calories for a few bites for concentrated foods.
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Fortunately, after decades of efforts by health care providers to make beneficial changes, food labels are becoming more important to us. This was especially helpful for the carbohydrates on the labels. Now, the labels show how much “added” sugar is in the portion. This is important because you can use this valuable information to reduce your intake of bad carbohydrates.
However, be aware that “added” sugar is expressed in grams and you need to know what it means. Remember the number four. To interpret this and put it into perspective, you need to know that one gram of sugar contains 4 calories and one teaspoon contains 4 grams of sugar.
What are the healthy guidelines for added sugar?
For women, the daily max should not exceed 6 teaspoons (6 teaspoons x 4 grams of sugar x 4 calories per gram of sugar = 96 calories). For men, the daily max should not exceed 9 teaspoons of sugar (144 calories).
So how are we doing? The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar (352 calories) per day, most of which comes from soft drinks. For example, a single 12 ounce can of coke contains 9.75 teaspoons of “added” sugar (39 grams). Can you imagine the amazing consumption of sugar by people who carry quart-sized soft drinks and drink them all day long?
Unfortunately, soft drinks are not the only culprit. “Added” sugar is everywhere, including candy, confectionery, ice cream, fruit juices and canned fruits, fast foods, cereals and cereals. “Added” sugar, as well as barbecue sauce, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, sports drinks, granola, flavored coffee, high protein bars, ready-made soups, canned baked beans, pre-made smoothies, etc.
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Not all carbohydrates deserve the bad reputation that has been unfairly imposed on them in recent years. Fruits, vegetables and grains are complex, good carbohydrates rich in fiber and nutrients. On the contrary, some carbohydrates certainly deserve a bad reputation, and at the top of the list are simple carbohydrates, high in “added” sugar that provide nothing but calories.
Contact Bryant Stamford, Professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Hanover College, at email@example.com.