Carbohydrates have a pretty bad rap. A lot of the blame goes to the low-carb craze a few years back, which made many of us believe—falsely—that we had to shun any food that wasn’t protein or a so-called good fat to lose weight. And look, there are plenty of carbohydrates worth avoiding. (Sorry, white toast.) But there are also lots of good-for-you carbs that deserve a place on your plate. You just need to know the difference when you’re staring down a host of menu options or filling up your grocery cart. No worries, though, we’re breaking it down right here.
Green Light: Fresh Vegetables, Fruits, and Whole Grains
Those still clinging to the outdated notion that carbs equal empty calories and added pounds might be surprised to learn that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans actually recommend adults get almost half of their daily calories from carbs. Foods like quinoa, black beans, edamame, and sweet potatoes have been dubbed good carbs because they fuel your body and your brain. They keep us from feeling fuzzy or even cranky. They’ve got tremendous staying power, so cravings and hunger pangs will be less likely to hit. The best places to find good carbs are in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
Red Light: Refined Sugars and Flour
When nutritionists talk about tossing processed foods from your pantry, it’s foods with these two ingredients that are primarily what they have in mind. That’s because processed (or refined) foods have had most of their nutritional benefits stripped out. Many also contain added sugar. Even worse, any carbs that you don’t use up right way will be stored in your cells as glycogen and eventually be converted to fat. No wonder they’re known as bad carbs. So what counts? Think white breads, traditional pasta, white rice, French fries, cookies and cake, soda, some breakfast cereals, and yes, sugar. It’s not that you need to avoid these at all times—we all deserve a cookie every so often—but there are smarter choices you can make come meal time that will give you lasting energy, plus a dose of nutrients to help you feel your best.
Mix Your Carbs
So since half your calories are supposed to come from carbs, don’t make the mistake of overdoing it on the whole grain breads and leaving it at that. Remember the other carbs too. Make sure to include plenty of vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes, and other whole grain foods, such as oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice. Another way to be sure you’re getting the best kind of carbs is to pay attention to fiber content. Good target numbers are 25 grams of fiber each day for women and 31 grams for men.