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Carbohydrates are an essential part of any diet. Learn about the best carbohydrate choices for diet and weight loss.
Carbohydrates are all about energy and are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, and dairy products.
Your body uses these foods to make glucose, which is your body's main energy source. Glucose is a type of sugar that can be used right away for energy or stored away to be used later.
"Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy it needs and are a good source of many vitamins and minerals. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal," says Donna Logan, RD, a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston.
According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, the best carbohydrates are those that contain a lot of fiber, like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These types of carbohydrates take longer to break down into glucose and give you the most nutrients along with your calories. Refined carbohydrates are sometimes referred to as "bad” carbohydrates. These are carbohydrates that have been processed to remove parts of the grain and have had sugar added. Common examples of refined or processed carbohydrates are white bread, cakes, and cookies.
Low-Carb Diets and Weight Loss
"One of the best weight-loss guidelines is to eliminate sources of simple sugars such as soda, sweets, candies, cakes, cookies, and similar snack foods," says Logan. "Choose foods with few or no grams of sugar. Foods high in fiber are best because they provide optimal nutrition while giving a sense of fullness.”
If you choose a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss and take in fewer calories, you will lose weight. Generally these diets involve eating less bread and pasta and more vegetables, fruits, and meat. Although low-carbohydrate diets work well early on, after six months they do not work any better than any other diets for weight loss.
“If you stop eating carbohydrates, you rapidly lose water weight as your body breaks down the stored carbohydrates," explains Darwin Deen, MD, senior attending physician at Montefiore Medical Center's Department of Family and Social Medicine in the Bronx, New York. "The problem is that a low-carbohydrate diet is not a normal balance of physiologic nutrition. As soon as you start eating carbohydrates again, your body replenishes your carbohydrate stores and your weight comes back," says Dr. Deen.
Eat the Right Carbohydrates for Weight Loss
"Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, which can add variety, color, and flavor to meals. Whole grains such as whole wheat, corn tortillas, and brown rice are great sources of healthy carbohydrates. Check the nutritional label for carbohydrate information, including total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and sugars,” says Logan.
Here are ideas for getting the right carbs in your diet: Start your day with a breakfast of whole-grain cereal and fruit. Add an extra serving of vegetables to lunch and dinner. For easy between-meal snacks right at your fingertips, keep raw, cut-up vegetables in the refrigerator. Substitute beans as a main course in place of meat once every week. Eat a whole fruit as your dessert.
Get Your Personal Carbohydrate Guidelines
U.S. guidelines suggest that between 45 and 65 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates. At the USDA Web site, you can enter your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level to find out exactly how many calories in your diet should be from carbohydrates. You will also find the “Easy Fiber Estimator,” which will tell you how many grams of fiber ought to be in every 1,000 calories you eat. For example, if you are on a diet of 2,000 calories, you will want to get 28 grams of dietary fiber.
Concentrate on Calories and Nutrition
The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 recommends a balanced eating pattern. If you need to lose weight, you should decrease your calories gradually and increase your physical activity. Choose fiber-rich carbohydrate foods and avoid added sugars. Making healthy carbohydrate choices while reducing calories and increasing physical activity is the healthiest path to weight loss.