Not all carbohydrates are bad, they are an incredibly important part of a good and balanced meal plan. The key lies in making the right food choices and what are those?
In recent times we have come to be very harsh on carbs and foods that give us carbs. But why are we suddenly turning against a nutrient and why has it become one of the causes for many lifestyle disorders? To start with let’s get to know the nutrient carbohydrate a little more, because all we hear now is how not to eat them. Carbohydrates provide the fuel that powers all your body processes, so any system, organ, reaction, function that needs energy is dependent on this nutrient. That must make it important right so, what is the problem then?
Carbohydrate foods are not created equally, simply meaning there are good carbs which need to be a part of your diet plan and then there are the bad carbs that can be detrimental to health. Consumerism, convenience, reliance on processed foods that’s where all the problems with carbohydrates begin. What are these bad carbs we are talking about? White bread, white rice, white pasta, packaged cereals, biscuits, chips, bagels, croissants, pastries, table sugar, and really all the refined and white foods fall under this category, including fizzy drinks, cordials, packaged fruit juices, etc.
The carbohydrates nature designed has fibre, vitamins, minerals, good fats and a small amount of protein as well and this ensured a slow release and utilization of glucose in the body. Glucose is the end product of carbohydrate digestion and what our body uses for energy. So, when we decide to strip off all other nutrients and leave only the carbs and some protein in the grains we are changing how the body uses the glucose and without the other nutrients results in a spike in blood sugar, excessive storage which is one of the big problems associated with carbohydrates and disease.
What carbohydrate foods should you eat?
Having established that carbohydrates are important for the body to function optimally we need to be mindful of the carbs we choose. Yes, the real test is in getting the right carb sources and what are these? There are plenty of carbohydrate rich foods that are good and can be easily incorporated into our diets. Here are some of those foods:
Whole Grains: Brown Rice, Brown Rice Flakes, Red Rice, Wild Rice, Rolled Oats, Whole Wheat, Bran Flakes, Amaranth, Barley, Bulgar Wheat, Ragi, Millets, Quinoa, etc. You will be surprise how many option you actually have when it comes to grains and you can use them whole, as flakes, and even as flour. They will not keep long and have a lower shelf life, this is one of the main reasons for refining (stripping away the fibre and other nutrients) grains, to increase their shelf life. So, you may want to buy smaller quantities and maybe even store them in the refrigerator. Another way is to alternate your grains, don’t buy all at once.
Bean & Lentils: Chickpeas, Aduki beans, Black eye peas, Puy lentils, Kidney beans, Mung beans, etc, again just like grains there are so many varieties out there. All you have to do is look. Well one thing to remember when cooking beans and lentils, it is best to soak the beans overnight or in hot water for an hour if its last minute. Lentils can be soaked for 15-20 minutes before cooking. Always leave space when soaking as the beans will swell when they absorb the water. The easiest way to cook them is in a pressure cooker and it is always nice to make a big batch and freeze a portion to use another day. If you are buying them canned be sure to get the ones canned in spring water and rinse with plain water before use. Eating beans and lentils can cause a little digestive disturbance and hence it is best to cook them with cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fresh coriander as they help in digestion.
Fruits & Vegetables: The biggest portion of carbs on your plate needs to come from this category. Again, choose variety, get a rainbow of colors and enjoy a balance of raw and cooked vegetables. Best to eat your salads at lunch or in the first half of the day. For dinner lightly cook your vegetables as digestive power decreases towards the end of the day.
Too much of any one food or nutrient is not what we need and so we have to be mindful even when eating the good carbohydrates. These few pointers will help you create the right balance.
- Be Mindful of your portions: Let the dense grains and beans/ lentils be a small portion on your plate. Because they are rich in fibre they will fill you up more quickly than the white refined foods. You can bulk up your plate with the vegetables just not with the starchy ones.
- Get Creative with Carbs: Make your own dense whole grain breads, or even pancakes both sweet and savory. If you want to go a step further in lowering the carb content use sprouted grain flours. Make your own muesli, granola, biscuits, muffins using the good grains. Vegetables like cabbage, lettuce can serve as bases for a wrap, green peas and pumpkin can be turned into creamy mash and cabbage into a pizza base. There are loads of fun recipes out there, all you need to do is research a little bit. Fruits can be turned into highly nutritious smoothies and compotes.
- Spread it out: You don’t have to eat all your carbs at once. Small portions in every meal is what you are aiming for. For the evenings you many want to keep the dense grins out and stick to vegetables since our energy output decrease that time of the day.
Because of their numerous benefits carbohydrates have a rightful place in your diet, so don’t be afraid to include them in your meals.
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