by Linda York
To eat or not to eat?
That is the question with carbs. Depending on the fad diet, carbs are either in or out, but the good news is that now you can have your cake (if it’s whole grain) and eat it too. Remember the Food Pyramid? Well, that has undergone some serious renovation, and the new architecture spells out fresh, updated USDA dietary guidelines. How many servings of whole grains—a rich source of complex carbohydrates—are we supposed to be eating a day? Don’t know? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The new guideline for these amazing foods is three servings a day. All right, we have heard that whole grains are great for us, but what are they, how do we use them, and how do we include them in our diet?
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with its main source of energy. Certain tissues and parts of the body—the brain, the central nervous system, parts of the kidneys, and red blood cells—must have a constant supply of carbohydrates for energy formation. The brain alone burns 600 calories’ worth of glucose (a carbohydrate) per day just from thinking (if you don’t think, it’s somewhat less).
The amount of carbohydrates that an individual will require over the course of the day will depend in part on the total number of calories the person needs. That amount will vary because of age, metabolism, body type, and, most of all, activity level. In general, most people do well consuming between 40 and 50 percent of their calorie intake in the form of carbohydrates.
Natural vs. refined
Natural carbohydrates come from whole-food items, such as string beans, apples, carrots, and brown rice. Refined carbohydrates are derived from processed food items such as crackers, cookies, jelly beans, and bread or pasta made with white flour. Guess which group is considered healthier?
Complex vs. simple
Complex carbohydrates are found in many whole-food items, such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (oatmeal, wheat berries, barley, corn niblets, etc.). They take longer to digest and metabolize because of their complex structure, especially their fiber content. Simple carbohydrates are generally found in processed food items (white-flour products and sugars) and are digested and metabolized quickly because of their lack of fiber. They are also found in fruit, as fructose, but when eaten as a whole food, they’re encased in fiber, which minimizes the negative effect known as the sugar rush.
Plants are the primary source of dietary carbohydrates—fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. Milk and milk-based products also contain some carbohydrates.
Fiber, although not a source of calories, adds bulk and texture to foods. It slows down your digestion time so that you stay full longer. Vegetables are also high in fiber. Soluble fiber, from foods like apples and oatmeal, sets up a kind of gel filtration system in the intestinal tract. It binds with bile salts (the end product of cholesterol metabolism) and other waste products and carries them out of your system. Bile attaching to fiber helps lower the body’s cholesterol level.
Insoluble fiber, such as wheat bran, swells with water and helps prevent constipation. It also binds with substances such as estrogen and can remove excesses of this hormone from the body.
Get lean and happy
So why is there so much buzz in the nutrition world about whole grains? The new story is weight loss. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study that found that “a diet rich in these good carbs slows weight gain and can reduce body fat.” Cooking with whole grains is a fun and satisfying adventure. They have a sweet, slightly nutty taste, and are satisfying because of their chewy texture. Plus, there are so many different ways you can include them in your recipes. The combinations are endless, and in no time at all, you’ll find yourself creating your own wholesome, delicious, whole-grain meals.
8 Super Carbs
Here are eight Super Carb whole-grain foods that you can add to any healthy balanced diet and exercise regimen—whether you sweat off the pounds with Hip Hop Abs™ Dance Party Series or dance, slim, and tone with Yoga Booty Ballet.
- Brown rice. This nutritional dynamo packs more B vitamins, fiber, protein, selenium, magnesium, and potassium than white rice. At 45 minutes, it takes longer to cook than white rice, but you can get it precooked—either frozen or in a vacuum pouch. There are a lot of new products that make it easy to include brown rice in your diet. You can find it as the main ingredient in crackers, rice cakes, cereals, pasta, and rice milk.
- Barley. This is an excellent source of fiber and a great source of protein, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and iron. It also contains beta-glucan and pectin, which are both recognized for their cholesterol-lowering abilities. It makes a great side dish just plain, or you can find it in some soups and breads.
- Quinoa. Pronounced keen-wah, this crunchy grain is a complete protein that contains lysine (an amino acid missing from most grains), and is a great source of riboflavin, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and fiber. It’s used to make some varieties of pasta and hot and cold cereals. It’s also a great change from rice or pasta as a side dish.
- Millet. Crunchy and fast to cook, it’s a good source of fiber and plant protein. It also contains potassium, B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc.
- Wheat berries. This is a sweet and chewy source of fiber, protein, B vitamins, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium, as well as phytochemicals.
- Bulgur. This is the name for wheat berries that have been steamed and cracked. It may be used in pilafs, soups, and bakery goods; as a stuffing; or as a healthier substitute for rice or couscous.
- Farro. It is the original grain from which all others derive and was the standard ration of the Roman Legions that expanded throughout the western world. Farro is lighter in taste and texture than wheat berries, but has the same nutritional ingredients. It is also sometimes called spelt, and can be found in a variety of whole-grain breads.
- Whole-wheat couscous. Couscous is a really quick-cooking pasta made from whole wheat. It’s great as a side dish or with a stew ladled on top.
Fun whole-grain choices include: whole-wheat tortillas; frozen pizza with whole-grain crust; whole-grain waffles; whole-grain crackers; barley, wild rice, or whole-wheat pasta soups; whole-grain pretzels; air-popped popcorn; 100 percent whole-grain bagels and English muffins; brown rice sushi; and whole-grain cereals.