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grain stalkBreadBeans

Carbs are one of the three major sources of energy in your diet. They come in simple and complex carbs and range from amazingly good for you to downright toxic. So how do you pick the ones that help you and avoid the ones that’ll likely kill you?

Simple Carbs:

cookies Soda

For simple carbs think sugars, processed juices, pastries, sports drinks, soda. These are made to enter the body quickly, They give a burst of flavor but at the same time they’re rushing in, spiking your blood sugar dangerously. The body reacts by releasing insulin to cope, but too much too often and the insulin quits working like it should, that’s the start of diabetes. We’ll talk more about that and other diseases in another section. Along with these we’ll add potatoes and refined flour as they have pretty much the same effect. Remember, processed foods remove most of the fiber and vitamins necessary for your body, leaving only the sugars.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar) for most women and no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar) for most men.

for more on added sugars look here

Complex Carbs:

Fruitbrown rice

These include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Basically, stuff that hasn’t been ground up, bleached, and processed to the point it’s unrecognizable. These contain fiber which slows down the digestion process, keeping the blood sugar levels from spiking while satisfying your hunger far longer so you don’t need to eat as much.

Here’s a good set of tips from Harvard’s School of Public Health:

Start the day with whole grains.

Confused about how to find a whole-grain bread? Look for bread that lists as the first ingredient whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain —and even better, one that is made with only whole grains, such as 100 percent whole wheat bread.

Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks.

Also look beyond the bread aisle.

Whole wheat bread is often made with finely ground flour, and bread products are often high in sodium. Instead of bread, try a whole grain in salad form such as brown rice or quinoa.

Choose whole fruit instead of juice.

An orange has two times as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice.

Pass on potatoes, and instead bring on the beans.

Rather than fill up on potatoes – which have been found to promote weight gain  – choose beans for an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates. Beans and other legumes such as chickpeas also provide a healthy dose of protein.

Cracker     Starchy Carbs

Glycemic Index

Another way to tell if your carbs are good or bad is by the glycemic index and glycemic load. These are ways to measure how quickly the carbs are broken down to sugar in the body. Generally a low glycemic index/load is far better than a high one, as it takes longer to be digested, limiting hunger and giving a more reliable source of energy.

**This is really important if you’re diabetic**

Many factors can affect a food’s glycemic index, including the following:

  • Processing: Grains that have been milled and refined—removing the bran and the germ—have a higher glycemic index than minimally processed whole grains.
  • Physical form: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested than coarsely ground grain. This is why eating whole grains in their “whole form” like brown rice or oats can be healthier than eating highly processed whole grain bread.
  • Fiber content: High-fiber foods don’t contain as much digestible carbohydrate, so it slows the rate of digestion and causes a more gradual and lower rise in blood sugar.
  • Ripeness: Ripe fruits and vegetables tend to have a higher glycemic index than un-ripened fruit.
  • Fat content and acid content: Meals with fat or acid are converted more slowly into sugar.

Here’s a list of the glycemic index and glycemic load for the most common foods. (Harvard School of Public Health)

Also, here’s a great tool from the University of Sidney, it’s a database of the glycemic index of a wide range of foods.

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