It saddens me to see how frowned upon this nutrition group is. It seems as though everywhere I look or listen, a basic nutrient of energy, carbohydrates are getting a bad rap. Overconsumption on any type of food is not healthy, but the body needs carbohydrates to survive. Never have I seen someone in the hospital on NPO status- meaning nothing by mouth, receive an IV that didn’t contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are vital to life. Your brain functions exclusively on glucose. It is recommended that you consume about 50-60% of your calories from carbohydrates. Not all carbs are created equal. A ½ cup of bean soup is not the same to ½ cup of vanilla ice cream. They may both contain 15 grams of carbohydrates but are worlds apart when talking about nutrient density.
Before I go on to explain more about carbohydrates and which foods contain them, I also must state that many foods are a mixture of all three macronutrients. The three basic macronutrients are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Whole milk for example is a combination of all three. One glass (because a glass is not a glass) a.k.a. 8 ounces of whole milk contains 150 calories, 9 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein. When I am counseling patients with diabetes, milk is grouped into the carbohydrate section. I will now leave milk alone and later devote a blog post to just milk. Which milk is best? Stay tuned.
The body breaks down carbohydrates and consumes them as glucose. ENERGY. I always recommend nutrient dense foods. Nutrient dense foods are worth their calories. Nutrient dense foods are giving you fullness after consuming them. What am I trying to say? Let’s take oranges for example. Oranges are high in fiber, vitamin C and delicious. Through my experience, I have learned to be very specific when I recommend to someone to consume oranges. Half a cup of orange juice a.k.a. 4 ounces is about 70 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate and no fiber. When you consume this your body is going absorb it immediately and because you drank it, the brain is not getting the signal that you have eaten. So you are still as hungry. Also, who drinks 4 ounces of juice in today’s era? I am amazed at the serving sizes of drinks out there. If you EAT a medium sized orange and chew it and eat all the fiber. Your gut is sending the brain a signal that it is consuming. I am not saying you will get full from one orange, but you certainly have more satiety than having a 4 ounce glass of OJ. Same amount of calories.
To explain carbohydrate without getting too scientific I will split them into two categories: simple and complex. The simple carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly in the body. An orange in the example above is a simple carbohydrate. To eat an orange is better than to drink and orange. The next time you see has a small orange juice from McDonald’s its 12 ounces I ask for you I think eating three small oranges would be more satisfying. (By no means am I picking on McDonald’s)
Simple carbohydrates are fruits, white flour, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, juices, soft drinks. As you can see from this list, they are not all created equal. I have rarely recommended a diet low in fruit. Of course not all fruit is created equal. Grapes tend to be very high in sugar. When dehydrated, raisins, are still high in sugar. If 15 small grapes is 15 grams of carbohydrates, then its 15 raisins are still 15 grams of carbohydrates. Raisins are not a very good choice for nutrient dense food. (Ok, I guess, if you can eat only 15) Another good example are cranberries. How do fresh cranberries taste? Answer: Sour. Why are dried cranberries sweet? Added sugar. I usually tell my patients to avoid dried fruit. Of course every rule has an exception.
To make it simple, pick simple carbohydrates that a nutrient dense. Get the most bang for your calories.
Some of my recommended favorites: 1 serving size each about the same amount of calories approx. 70-110 calories
- 1 cup of melon fresh or frozen
- 1 cup berries fresh or frozen
- 1 small peach/apple/orange (size of a baseball)
- Small banana
- 15 small grapes
- 12 cherries
- 1 kiwi
- 1 cup low fat milk
(I always get asked which type of fruit is best. My answer: Fresh then frozen and last canned in its own juice.)
Complex carbohydrates are carbs that take longer for the body to absorb. Some can take 1-2 hours to absorb. When you combine these with fats and proteins you can lengthen the absorption time. Complex carbohydrates are ideal for satiety and should a part of you meal planning. Most of these foods carry some protein giving you increased satiety.
Some of my recommended favorites: 90-120 calories per serving
- 1/2 cup of sweet potato
- 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils, dried beans
- 1 slice of whole grain bread (read the label, wheat flour does not equal whole grain or whole wheat)
- 1/2 cup of whole grain cereal hot or cold (No quick oats)
- 1/2 cup whole grain rice or whole grain pasta