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Carb Basics: The Whole Truth

whole wheat bread and grains

Dušan Zidar/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In this Article:

  • You need to eat carbohydrates.
  • Choose whole-grain complex carbohydrates (over refined or processed carbs).
  • Read food labels to know the carbohydrate contents.

Many popular diets claim that your biggest barrier to weight loss is carbohydrates (carbs). The thinking is as faulty as the idea that a grapefruit-only diet is healthy for weight loss.

Carbs play a critical role in fueling a Soldier’s body and brain. Put simply: you need carbs. Without carbs, energy decreases, thoughts get fuzzy, and irritability kicks in.

But not all carbs are created equal. Too many “simple” carbs can have a negative impact on your long-term health and readiness. Learn the difference between good carbs, carbs to keep in check, and how to find the carbs you need.

Good carbs keep off pounds

Good carbs, like the ones found in rice, oatmeal, and vegetables, help regulate your weight, balance your mood and keep you from feeling hungry an hour after you eat. Whole grains such as brown rice and whole grain oatmeal are best.

These carbs—known as “complex” carbs—are minimally processed, which makes them slower to digest. For example, the fiber in whole wheat pasta acts like a slow motion button, decreasing the speed of digestion. This means energy releases slowly, and your body can use it all day long. Plus, your body doesn’t store the energy as fat—unless you eat too much.

Added bonus: whole-grain carbs contain vitamins and minerals which are essential for good eyesight and healthy skin and hair. Fiber, a star complex carb, also helps your organs remove toxins and prevent constipation.

Aim for most of your daily carb intake to come from good carbs.

Highly-processed carbs pack on pounds

Carbs found in highly-processed foods like white bread, potato chips, and MRE desserts have been stripped of the fiber (and other nutrients) that creates the slow-motion digestion effect.

Then there is all the sugar in soda and candy bars. Sure, the items taste delicious, but your body digests the simple carbs so fast that your body gets a surge of energy similar to a spoonful of sugar. Your body struggles to process this unneeded energy and is forced to store the energy as fat.

The short-term side effects of too much sugar can be continued hunger, sugar crashes, grouchiness, and weight gain. The long-term side effects include Type 2 diabetes and obesity. It’s okay to splurge every once in a while, but remember that your choices can have negative health costs.

How to find the best carbs

When shopping for carb sources, check two spots on the packaging: the nutrition label and the ingredient list.

The nutrition label: look for foods with 5 percent or more of your daily value for fiber.

The ingredient list: Look for the word “whole,” like whole wheat pasta or whole grain bread. Also check for added sugar. The closer it is to the top of the ingredient list, the more added sugar. Other code names for sugar are corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. Try to avoid too many foods with high added sugar.

Good carb choices

Here a few examples to get you started:

  • Whole wheat bread instead of white bread
  • Oatmeal instead of sugary cereal
  • Brown rice instead of white rice
  • Baked potato instead of tater tots
  • Grilled zucchini slices instead of French fries
  • Popcorn (without butter and salt) instead of chips

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