The rising popularity in recent years of low-carb diets has created a host of confusion around carbohydrates. Though some studies seem to indicate that carbs lead to weight gain, experts suggest these findings may unfairly demonize carbs. Different types and levels of carbs can be found in grains, fruit and vegetables. These carbs have different effects on the body, and understanding them is one key to creating a healthy eating plan.
What are Carbs?
Your body needs carbs to make glucose, which provides energy and helps the muscles and brain to function. Though some studies have indicated that low-carb diets speed weight loss, these studies were short-term and flawed, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Excess calories -- not carbs -- lead to weight gain.
Two main types of carbs exist -- complex and simple. Complex carbs consist of starch and dietary fiber, most often found in grains. Simple carbs are found in processed foods with added sugars, but they also occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk.
Carbs in Grains
The complex carbs found in grains provide some of the best nutritional benefits. Grains such as oats, wheat and rice contain dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and is critical for digestive function. Most adult women should get at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and grains are great sources. A 1/2-cup serving of dry oatmeal contains 27 carbs and 4 grams of fiber. The best option is whole grains rather than refined.
Carbs in Fruits
Fruits contain both complex carbs in the form of fiber and simple carbs in the form of sugar. On average, a single serving of fruit contains about 15 carbs, though the actual total varies depending on the fruit. Lemons and raspberries, for example, are fairly low in carbs, while bananas and grapes are relatively high. To get the beneficial fiber and reduce excess sugars, choose whole, fresh fruits. Limit consumption of fruit juices, dried fruits and canned fruits in syrup.
Carbs in Vegetables
Vegetables are usually low in carbs. A serving of vegetables contains about 5 carbs, most of which come in the form of fiber. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas and beans are actually considered part of the grains group because of their higher carb content. As such, a serving of starchy vegetables will have approximately 15 carbs per serving.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- American Diabetic Association: Food & Fitness -- Fruits
- American Diabetic Association: Food & Fitness -- Non-Starchy Vegetables
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Carb Myths Busted
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