Carbohydrates 101


We hear so much about carbohydrates these days.  As we focus on November being National Diabetes Month, this would be a great time to discuss the basics of carbohydrates.  I’ll start by addressing some frequently asked questions.

Which foods have carbohydrates? 

All of the following contain carbohydrates:
• Breads, cereals, rice, tortillas
• Fruit and fruit juice
• Milk and yogurt
• Beans and soy products
• Potatoes, corn and peas
• Sweets and snack foods

Carbohydrates can be found in fruits, vegetables, dairy, breads,
cereals, grains, tortillas, sweets and snack foods.

Is there a difference between carbohydrates?

Yes!  There are three main type of carbohydrates: complex, simple and fiber.  Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as a starch.  These can take longer for our bodies to digest  than simple carbohydrates.   Examples of complex carbohydrates are:
• Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and peas
• Beans and lentils
• Grains and products made with grains, such as bread, cereal, pasta
The grain group can be further broken down into whole grains and refined grains.   A grain contains 3 parts:  the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  A whole grain contains all three parts and with that you get all the nutrients the grain offers.  Refined grains contain only the endosperm, which contains mostly just starch and you miss out on the nutrients offered by the other two parts. 

2.  Simple carbohydrates are also referred to as sugar.  These are quick and easy for our bodies to digest. These are found:
• Naturally occurring in fruits and milk
• Added sugars – added during cooking (such as cookies or cakes) or processing (such as canned fruit).
There are a variety of names for added sugars such as: molasses, raw sugar, powdered sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup. 

3.  Fiber is only found in plant foods.  It is often found in the leaves, peel, and stem of the plant.  Most of the fiber we consume is not digested, so it just passes right through your intestines.  But don’t let that make you think fiber isn’t important to our bodies.  Fiber helps to keep you regular as well as help keep you full and satisfied after you eat.  Good sources of fiber are:
• Whole fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains and products made with whole grains
• Beans
• Nuts (but watch portions since these can be high in calories)
Aim to consume foods that contain 3-5 grams of fiber/serving.  Make sure and increase your water consumption as you increase your fiber intake!

How many carbohydrates can I have?

Start with 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal.  Consult your healthcare team to figure out what amount is right for you.  The following have about 15 grams of carbohydrates:

• 1 small piece of fruit
• 1/2 banana
• 1/2 cup frozen fruit
• 1 slice bread
• 1 tortilla, corn or flour (6 inches)
• 1/2 cup beans, peas, corn  or mashed potatoes
• 1/2 cup cooked cereal or pasta
• 1/2 English muffin, bun, or small bagel
• 1 small potato
• 1 cup low –fat milk
• 1 cup low-fat yogurt (plain or light)

Want to learn more? Join us on one of our Registered Dietitian lead diabetes tours.
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