Choosing the Best Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in our health and nutrition. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you consume between 45-65 percent of your calories as carbohydrates. If you are on a 2000 calorie diet, about 900 to 1300 of those calories would be coming from carbs. That’s a lot of carbs! So it’s important for you to understand the science behind this vast calorie source, and to make the right carbohydrate choices.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are comprised of sugars, starches, and cellulose. Your body uses an enzyme called amylase to break down a carbohydrate into glucose (blood sugar), which is then used as energy for your body. Your body can use glucose immediately or store it as glycogen in your liver and muscles for when it is later needed.

Types of Carbohydrates

Simple Carbohydrates – are made up of a single basic sugar and are broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Simple sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Simple sugars can also be found in refined sugars such as candy, syrups and soft drinks. It’s best to get your simple sugars from foods like fruit and milk due to the fact that sugar is naturally engrained in these foods, rather than being added by processors. In turn, this means they contain more vitamins, fiber and nutrients.

Complex Carbohydrates – are long chains of three or more single sugar molecules linked together. Starch and dietary fiber are the two main types of complex carbohydrates. Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it, thus taking longer to hit the blood stream than simple sugars. Starches are foods such as whole grain bread, rice, pasta and legumes. Other vegetables such as green beans, broccoli and spinach contain less starch but have more fiber. Complex carbohydrates should provide about half the calories in your diet, however just like simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others. Refined grains such as white rice and white flour are processed, which removes most of the fiber and nutrients. Stick to the rule of thumb by choosing foods where the first ingredient is whole, such a whole grain pasta and whole grain bread. These foods contain more vitamins, fiber and nutrients.

 Select Most Often
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Brown Rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Millet
  • Oatmeal/ Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat berries
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain cornmeal
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Whole grain rice
  • Whole grain oats
  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Wild rice
  • Whole grain barley
 Select Moderately
  • Corn bread
  • Corn tortillas
  • Pretzels
 Select Least Often
  • Brown sugar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Chicory Syrup
  • Confectioners sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Glucose
  • High sugar cereals
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Macaroni
  • Malt Syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • White bread
  • White noodles
  • White sandwich buns and rolls
  • White rice