Carbohydrates are one of three classes of food called macro nutrients; the other two being fats and protein. The term "carbohydrate" is a broad term, including everything from table sugar to chickpeas. Carbohydrates are a controversial topic these days. Some dietary guidelines suggest that the half intake of our calories should be from carbohydrates. On the other hand, some claim that carbohydrates lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes, hence people should avoid them. Everyone needs carbohydrates but that does not mean you include sugary drinks and cookies in your diet. The primary purpose of including carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy. Most carbohydrates are broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy. Carbohydrates can also be turned into fat for later use. There are two types of carbohydrates: good and bad carbohydrates.
According to the Delhi based nutritionist and author, Pooja Malhotra, ''All carbs are not created equal nor all carbs are bad, as shunned by some. It is important to understand the distinction between the two and how to choose the healthy ones.''
Good carbohydrates do not raise the blood sugar levels too quickly. The best carbohydrates are found in unprocessed whole foods which are rich sources of phytochemicals - plant compounds, which protects us against heart diseases, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Many phytochemicals are natural antioxidants and some are anti-inflammatory. A diet focused on eating plenty of good carbohydrates should be low in sugar, especially processed or added sugars. You should also avoid eating hidden sugars which may make you feel sick and lead to weight gain.
Pooja Malhotra further adds, ''The healthy carbs are those that are whole or minimally processed, thus have a good amount of fibre as well as other nutrients like vitamins and minerals. These have complex carbohydrate molecules(starch) plus the indigestible carbohydrate(cellulose/fibre). Also, they have a low glycemic index, get digested slowly leading to slow increase in blood sugar level. These help to maintain a sustained level of blood glucose and sustain energy level through out the day. Thus the whole carbs help in losing weight, preventing metabolic diseases, constipation and even colorectal cancers. These include wheat, barley, Indian millets (ragi, jowar, bajra), oats and rice(preferably single polished hand pounded)
Some sources of good carbohydrates are:
- Dairy products like milk, curd, cheese etc.
- Whole grains
- Sweet potatoes
Also read: Know The Many Benefits Of Eating Carbs!
Bad carbohydrates are highly processed carbohydrates like pastries, refined breads and cereals that raise the blood sugar levels too quickly. These refined carbohydrates are high in sugar and break down into glucose and enter your blood stream faster than vegetables and other good carbohydrates. Apart from this, they are low in nutrients and fiber. Therefore, if you eat foods rich in refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels will increase.
The Delhi based nutritionist Pooja Malhotra, defines ''bad cabs as the ones that are processed and refined o remove their goodness. The fibre and nutrients are lost during the process. these include refined flour(maida) and its products. Refined sugar also falls in this category. Both of them have high glycemic index, are rapidly digested and lead to sudden increase in blood sugar levels. The spikes are followed by lows and furthermore sugar cravings. Clearly, these are the cause of weight gain, constipation and lifestyle related disorders.''
Some sources of bad carbohydrates:
How to choose the right ones?
As a thumb rule, carbohydrates that are in their natural form or are rich in fibre are healthy. The carbohydrates that should be included in your diet are the ones that do not raise the blood sugar levels quickly. Moreover, they should provide all the essential nutrients to your body. You should eliminate deserts that are low in nutrients and high amounts of sugar. Instead you should include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet which are beneficial for the overall health of the body.
(Pooja Malhotra is a Delhi based nutritionist and an author)
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