Carbohydrates – The Smart Way

Quality vs. Quantity

The Basics

WHAT: Closer look at the source and quantity of carbs intake.

SOURCE: Studies from Harvard Medical School

GREAT FOR: Diet, Healthy Living, Wellness


While the low-carb diet trend is still going strong, experts suggest you pay more attention to quality, not quantity.

Over the years, carbohydrates have become nutritional villains. It seems everywhere you look, people advise you to watch carbs, cut carbs, or go low-carb. But you need carbs — and more than you may think.

Dietary carbs provide the body’s primary energy source, glucose, which fuels everything you do, from breathing to thinking to running.

The Institute of Medicine recommends all adults get 45% to 65% of their daily calories from carbs, which is 203 to 293 grams per day based on an 1,800-calorie daily diet. This means about half of everything you eat should be carbohydrates

The main issue with carbs is that they can come from various foods — some good and some bad.

“We get dietary carbohydrates from nutrient-rich whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruit, vegetables, and dairy — but also from refined grains and the added sugars in processed foods and sugary beverages,” says Vasanti Malik, a research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Good carbs vs. bad carbs

Here are some ways to switch bad carbs for good ones.
Instead of this… Try this…
White rice Whole grains like brown rice, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, or wheat berries
Pasta made from refined flour Whole-grain pasta; whole-wheat couscous
Cakes, cookies, pies, and other low-nutrient sweets Fruit (fresh, frozen, or dried)
Fruit-flavored yogurt Plain yogurt with fruit (fresh, frozen)
Sugary breakfast cereals Oatmeal, cooked with milk or soy milk and grated apples or chopped dates
Sugar-sweetened beverages (sodas, fruit drinks, punches, iced tea, lemonade) Water; low-fat milk; unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea or coffee; seltzer with a splash of 100% fruit juice
Fried potatoes Small sweet potato baked with skin
White bread Whole-grain/whole-wheat bread
Ice cream Puréed frozen banana with cocoa powder

More or Less?

While the recommended carb intake range is the same for all age groups, there are some circumstances that might influence whether you aim for the high or low end.

For example, some research suggests that people with diabetes might benefit from a low-carb diet, but people with kidney problems should avoid low-carb eating plans because they tend to be high in protein, and too much protein is hard on the kidneys.

Best to emphasizes higher amounts of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (vegetable oils), and healthy proteins (nuts, legumes, eggs, seafood, and poultry) — while limiting bad carbs (such as refined grains and added sugars), red and processed meat, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats.

“Combine this healthy dietary pattern with daily physical activity, and you have the best chance for maintaining a healthy body weight and preventing chronic diseases,” says Malik.

One of the most common questions is : What steps should vegetarians take to ensure they get proper levels of protein?

Vegetarians should eat a variety of foods in order to get all nine amino acids. Examples include eating dairy products, nuts, rice, and assorted beans.

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