We’ve got some good news and some bad news.
From 1999-2016, there was a decrease in low quality carbohydrate (carb) consumption and an increase in high quality carb consumption in the U.S. That’s the good news.
The bad news is we still eat way too much of the low quality stuff. In fact, a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association says that low quality carbs account for 42 percent of our daily calorie intake while high quality carbs account for a mere 9 percent.
Researchers used reported dietary information from almost 44,000 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They compared this information to the US Department of Agriculture database to estimate nutrients in the average reported diet, and the Healthy Eating Initiative to look at quality of those nutrients.
But maybe we need to talk about something else before we talk more about this news. Namely – what distinguishes a high quality carbohydrate from a low quality carbohydrate?
Low quality carbohydrates are generally considered those that have been refined – or highly processed. They might also have a significant amount of added sugar. Starchy vegetables can also fall into this category. Generally, they have a lot of calories that are easily and quickly absorbed from the gut but very little nutritional value.
The fact that this category makes up such a large amount of the American diet accounts for many of the public health problems we are facing today: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and more. This is costly to us as a society as it drives up healthcare costs and lowers economic productivity.
But beyond the public concern, it’s a very personal concern. Individual people make up those statistics, and those diseases can cause real upheaval in a person’s life. In that light, here are some tips to help you improve your balance of low quality and high quality carbs and to build a healthier, more nutritious diet overall.
Avoid Refined Grains
Products like white bread, cookies, crackers, and the like are made from a very limited portion of the grain. The part that is used is ground very fine into flour. When eaten, it is almost immediately absorbed into the bloodstream and converted to sugar, causing an unhealthy spike in blood glucose.
Look for Sugar on the Label
Often products that are made to sound healthy on the front of the package have a large amount of sugar added to make them taste better. So it’s important to look at the back of the package and read the nutrition label, looking carefully at Total Carbohydrates, Total Sugars, and Added Sugars. If something has a very high sugar content or most of the sugar content comes from Added Sugars, it’s probably not a high quality carb. It would be wise to use it sparingly or not at all if that is the case.
Avoid the Aisles; Shop the Perimeter
Many of the low quality carbs live in the aisles of the grocery store – on the cereal aisle, the bread aisle, the cracker aisle – but foods on the perimeter, like fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, are typically not sources of low quality carbs. You might find the occasional interloper – yogurt can hide a lot of sugar in a seemingly healthy product – but in general the perimeter houses much healthier options than the aisles.
If you are not quite sure how to build a healthy and nutritional diet, we understand. The information out there can be confusing or downright misleading. We would love to talk with you about how to make manageable changes in your diet for long term health benefits. Hunt Regional Medical Partners has offices throughout Hunt County. Please get in touch to make your next appointment.