Pity the maligned carbohydrates.
Disciples of low-carb diets talk about them with the disdain of a teenager for homework. But nutritionists warn against giving all carbs a bum rap.
“The American way is to categorize food in black and white. Many people are chucking all carbs into the nasty category, which is absolutely wrong,” said Patti Milligan, nutritionist for Sprouts Farmers Market, which has stores in Scottsdale and Chandler. “Our bodies and brains need carbohydrates to function.”
Simply put, carbs are an everyday necessity. They are the body’s No. 1 choice of fuel, providing steady, healthy energy.
The key to health is selecting “good” carbs, which can help prevent diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. They also help fight fatigue, mood swings, stress and obesity.
Among good carbs are certain slowly digested fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy products and whole grains. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, grapefruit, fat-free milk and apples cause a gradual rise in blood-sugar levels.
On the flip side, “bad” carbs are refined, high-sugar, white-flour foods that are quickly digested and cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. This sugar spike causes the body to increase production of insulin. The insulin tells the body to store extra sugar as fat.
Tired? Stressed? Bingeing at the vending machines at work?
Such bad carbohydrates as bagels, French bread, corn chips and french fries might be the cause, said Johanna Burani, co-author of Good Carbs Bad Carbs.
In her book, Burani calls the good carbs “tricklers” and bad carbs “gushers.”
“I counsel people all day about what happens, for instance, when you eat a gusher for breakfast. Your blood-sugar goes zoom, zip and then crashes, leaving you hungry and tired,” she said.
Good carbs such as whole oats and wheat are often transformed into bad carbs through processing. Traditional oatmeal is far better than its quick-cooking cousin or cold oat cereals or shredded wheat.
Cutting back on all carbohydrates can cause a damaging strain on kidneys and “make you slog around feeling like you can’t focus,” Milligan said.
“You might be thin, but you could be boring. Do yourself a favor and eat those slow-burning carbs that keep your mind and body young and healthy from the inside out.”