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Carbohydrates are not your enemy. After years of research we do know what we have known for a long time - poor quality calories are bad for you. It doesn't really matter whether the focus is on carbs or fat or protein, if the quality of the food is great, the food is great for you.
So what are the best quality carbs for your pantry?
Bread is a great place to start because so many people fear it. Don't. Breads are a great part of a healthy diet. The key is to choose whole grain breads and looking for the highest fiber is key. A slice of white bread has little nutritive value with sometimes less than 1 gram of fiber. Look for breads with at least 2 grams of fiber or more.
The other carb that people love to hate is pasta. The issue is not that pasta makes people gain weight but that too much of a good thing is just that - too much. A serving of any pasta is 2 ounces and choosing whole wheat pasta is the way to better quality carb calories. As with the bread the difference in fiber is almost double. There's less than 2 grams in 2 ounces of pasta but almost 5 grams of fiber in whole wheat pasta.
The same holds true for rice. I use white rice in some dishes occasionally like risottos but I love brown rice. You'll find that there's a lot of choices of brown rice in the market now. You can easily find brown long grain, short grain, basmati and jasmine rice. Almost any of your recipes that call for white rice work well with brown rice.
Choosing a breakfast cereal is a bit like choosing who to marry. For most of us it has to be just right. The key is to look for cereals that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar. It really is just that simple. Sugared cereals like Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms are easy to see how bad they are for you. Looking carefully at the package, trying different cereals and keeping the best quality in your pantry is the strategy.
Choices like oatmeal or Cheerios are low in sugar and high in fiber. If you have a sweet tooth, you're better off sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar on your cereal since that's only 4 grams of carbs (about 16 calories). Compare that to some raisin brans that have both added sugar and high fructose corn syrup at 19 grams of carbohydrate per serving.
Start by looking at the amount of fiber and, as always, the higher the better. Just the opposite with sugar - choose the lowest. Don't stop there. Look at the ingredient list. If there's sugar, high fructose corn syrup or honey, it's best to think twice. Certainly if any sugar ingredient is listed in the first three it's best to leave it on the shelf.
The big one that folks want to avoid is potatoes. This is a real shame. Fresh potatoes are a great example of quality calories. The problem is not that potatoes make you gain weight or that they are bad for you, but that people just plain eat too much (mostly in the form of greasy french fries or potato chips).
A serving of potatoes is no more than about 6 ounces, but some Idaho baking potatoes can weigh almost three times as much. Yams are a great alternative to potatoes. There are fewer calories and about 2/3 more fiber.
As with many considerations for eating healthy, choosing the best ingredients - the best quality calories - is the way to success. You don't have to cut out carbs but watching the portion size and selecting the best quality is key.
Here's how to make quick changes for you:
|Not the best||Better choices||Serving Size|
|white bread||whole wheat bread||1 slice|
|English muffin||whole wheat English muffin||1 muffin|
|regular pasta||whole wheat pasta||2 ounces|
|white rice||brown rice||1/4 cup (uncooked)|
|white rice||wild rice||1/4 cup (uncooked)|
|grits||oatmeal||1/3 cup (uncooked)|
|sugared cereal (like Fruit Loops)||Cheerios
Shredded Wheat & Bran
Total Whole Grain
Total Raisin Bran
Kashi Cinnamon Harvest
Kellogg's Special K
Kellogg's All Bran
|Fruit juice||Fresh fruit|
|Carbs to REALLY avoid||Great snack choices|
|candy bar||fresh fruit|
|soda||iced tea, coffee or water|
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
January 19, 2009