Q: “What are good carbs?” – Claudia
A: Great question, Claudia! And one of the most controversial topics in the health world it seems…
Carbs have been the topic of much debate over the past couple of decades. It can be tricky to know what’s healthy and what’s not – so to start with, let’s define what a carb is. A carb, or carbohydrate, is a food that’s made up primarily of starch, fiber, and/or sugar. When we eat carbs, they turn into glucose, or sugar, in our system. This is why it’s so important to make sure you’re eating good carbs – we want to focus on eating real, whole food sources of carbohydrate. When we’re eating good carbs they provide fuel for our brain, quick energy for our muscles, they boost our immune function, and they help facilitate the natural detox process in our body.
When we’re talking about good carbs on a Paleo diet, we’re talking mainly about vegetables. All vegetables contain primarily carbohydrate, but some fall farther on the “carb” spectrum than others – the vegetables that contain the highest amounts of carbohydrates and sugars are starchy and root vegetables. Consuming vegetables as your main source of carbohydrate is the best thing you can do for your health because vegetables are full of so many incredible nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber(1).
Great examples of healthy vegetable carbs include carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin and other squash. All of these veggies contain high amounts of various vitamins and minerals, plus tons of good fiber to help facilitate proper digestion.
Other healthy, lesser-known vegetable carb options are celery root, Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke, yucca root, and plantain.It’s a great idea to experiment with new vegetables so you can see for yourself that eating for vibrant health never has to be boring 😉
Fruit is another great source of healthy carbs on a Paleo diet, but I want to encourage you to pick fruits low in sugar to eat on a daily basis – this includes green apples, berries, and grapefruit. Eat fruits that are higher in sugar, like bananas, persimmon, mango, and the like, only a few times a week. And save dried fruit as a special treat – when fruit is dried it concentrates the natural sugars found inside the fruit, and because the portion seems smaller and is less filling we usually end up eating more than a serving, and therefore consume much more sugar than we mean to. And be sure to check the label when you do choose eat dried fruit, and pick the pack that contains only fruit, and no added sugars or preservatives.
If you’re not sticking to a strict Paleo diet and want to include some grains in your meals, I have some recommendations for you:
Brown rice, black rice, wild rice, quinoa, steel cut oats, and buckwheat are my recommendations for gluten-free grains. If you’re going to eat grains I also urge you to “properly prepare” them – this means that the day before you plan on eating your grains, place them in a bowl of water and leave them to soak for a few hours or overnight. I recommend doing this because the outer hull of the grain contains certain enzymes, known as phytates, that are thought to prevent your body from absorbing important minerals in the grains (particularly magnesium, which many of us are already deficient in) as well as minerals in other food you eat with the grains. By giving the grains a good long rinse you can not only reduce overall cooking time, but you make sure you get as much nutritional value from the grains as possible(2).
“Bad” carbs to avoid are pretty much any refined grains (even white rice can have a negative impact on your blood sugar levels) or processed vegetables like potato chips. Again, the best carbs for you are going to real, whole-food sources, because they contain so many other important nutrients. These nutrients support your body in digesting the healthy carbohydrates, breaking them down into sugar at a slower pace so your body doesn’t get a big burst of glucose and a massive blood sugar spike. When you process and refine those foods (like when making traditional flour, for example) most of the nutrients are stripped away, along with the fiber, and you’re left with a much purer starch that your body breaks down into sugar much more quickly. This leads to an unhealthy spike in blood sugar, which sets the stage for hyperglycemia, prediabetes, and inflammation throughout the body. A 2010 study concluded that “Refined grain intakes were positively associated with PAI-1 concentrations, indicating that refined grain intake could have proinflammatory effects.(4)” It’s best to stay away from processed breads (even bread labeled “whole wheat”, but more on that later), pasta, pastries, and of course, refined sugar.
How Should You Eat Carbs?
I would recommend adding healthy sources of carbohydrates in with balanced meals that contain a good source of healthy fat and a portion of healthy protein. All of these nutrients work together to support your digestion and metabolism, so it’s a good idea to pair them up. Try to avoid eats carbs on their own, so you can maintain even-keel blood sugar that’s ideal for vibrant health.
I hope this article has given you some ideas of kinds of healthy carbs to focus on, and maybe even introduced you to a few new ones you hadn’t heard of before. Check out the rest of the blog for recipes, tips, and ideas for preparing healthy carbs and making them a part of your vibrant, healthy lifestyle.
- Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases
- Germinated brown rice as a value added rice product
- Whole and refined grain intakes are related to inflammatory protein concentrations in blood plasma
- Whole and refined grain intakes are related to Inflammatory protein concentrations in blood plasma