Good Carbs, Bad Carbs and Your Heart

Carbohydrates can get confusing. Here’s a breakdown of which you should be eating for a healthy heart.

Carbs can be confusing. Filled with misinformation and hype, television commercials and Internet advertisements talk about good carbs and bad carbs, added sugars, the glycemic index, fiber and whole grains.

Which do you need and which should you avoid?

We’ll clear the confusion and fill you in on the true identities of the good and bad members of the carbohydrate family as we explain the role of carbohydrates in a heart healthy diet.

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Good Carbs, Bad Carbs and Your Heart

What is a carbohydrate?

All carbohydrates share a single basic property: in the body they can be converted to sugar—specifically, glucose. That’s the definition of a carbohydrate.

Simple carbohydrates are those that are digested and absorbed quickly, best represented by sugars themselves. Complex carbohydrates include starches. While many believe that dietary starches cause a slower rise in blood glucose levels than do simple sugars, this is incorrect. Many starchy foods—white bread and baked potatoes, for example—cause rapid and large increases in blood sugar, just like simple sugars.

MORE: The Guide to the Best Breads

Is sugar bad for you?

Your body requires 200 grams of sugar per day, and sugar is the primary fuel for your brain. But sugar has been vilified of late, particularly in the discussion of added sugars. Added sugar is any caloric sweetener that is added to a food as it is prepared or processed.

So if pineapple, which contains natural sugars, is sold in a can that contains syrup, the syrup includes added sugars. Primarily because of our love affair with sugar-sweetened beverages, Americans consume an average of 21 teaspoons of added sugar each day, amounting to an astounding 16 percent of our total calories. Added sugars are everywhere; they hide out in ketchup, barbecue sauce, cream substitutes, many reduced-fat salad dressings and granola bars.

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