Carbs to Love

Whole Grains

The bread-bashers back then rarely distinguished between the good, made of whole grain, and the not-so-good, made of refined grains. Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. The bran is the outer shell that holds B vitamins, fiber and at least half of the grain's minerals. The germ, the seed's nourishment, stores more B vitamins as well as vitamin E, healthy fats, minerals and phytochemicals. Finally, the endosperm, the largest part, contains carbohydrates, protein and smaller amounts of Bs. The milling process removes the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm. This leaves a refined and much less nutritious grain, such as white flour or white rice.

As few as three servings per day of whole grains could slash your risk of both diabetes and coronary heart disease by as much as 30 percent. Studies suggest that eating whole grains lowers blood pressure, serum triglyceride levels and even your risk of developing gum disease.

On labels look for "100% whole grain" and read the ingredients list to be sure that whole grains are at the top. In addition to whole wheat, try barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, corn (including popcorn), millet, oats (including oatmeal), quinoa and wild rice.

Low-fat and Nonfat Yogurt and Milk

Lower your blood pressure and protect your bones with these carbs. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of dairy each day to supply adequate calcium, protein, riboflavin (a B vitamin) and vitamin D.

But don't go with yogurt alone. Although it's a great source of calcium and protein, yogurt lacks vitamin D. Get your D from milk (or from D-fortified cereals and O.J. if milk gives you problems). And though cheese doesn't usually contain carbohydrates or vitamin D, it also falls into the dairy group and can provide ample nutrition. Watch the fat content of your dairy. Too much saturated fat is bad for your heart.

Beans

They're good for your heart and for staving off cancer. Studies suggest they can lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, prevent constipation and decrease the risk for coronary heart disease and the recurrence of advanced colon cancer. They're packed with fiber, protein, folate, potassium, magnesium and a slew of other minerals.

Eat three cups a week according to the Dietary Guidelines. Mix them with jarred salsa and corn, stir them into soups and stews, toss them in your salads and spread hummus on whole grain crackers.

Understanding the Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrate foods by their effect on blood glucose levels. High GI foods like corn flakes and graham crackers elicit a greater increase in blood glucose--making more energy available to your muscles more quickly -- than low GI foods such as apples, beans and yogurt. However, controversy surrounds the usefulness of the GI because the blood-sugar effect varies depending on the amount of food eaten, how it's prepared and each person's individual response.

Despite its limitations, nutritionist Gidus suggests that an athlete fine-tune her food intake with the GI. "I recommend eating low-GI foods before exercise to provide a more sustained energy release. Moderate- to high-GI foods are best during and post-exercise for immediate repletion of glycogen," she says.

Before: apples, plums, cherries, peanut butter, milk, yogurt
During: grapes, sports drinks and gels
After: bagels, potatoes, juices, sports drinks and gels

The GI doesn't tell it all, however. It measures the effect that 50 grams of carbs in a particular food has on blood sugar, but it doesn't factor in the relative amount of carbs in an average serving of that food. 

That's why some nutritionists use the glycemic load (GL) instead. Watermelon, for example, has a high-glycemic index because 50 grams of carbohydrate in the fruit has a large effect on blood sugars. But since a typical slice contains only about 6 grams of carbs, watermelon's GL and it's effect on blood sugar is small. The same is true for carrots. They have a high GI, but a low GL.

For more info and to find out GI/GL values of certain foods, search the GI Database on glycemicindex.com. Experiment with different pre- and post-exercise meals to learn your best strategy. The glucose response varies from person to person and even from meal to meal.


Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.,C.D.E, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Hampton Roads Center for Clinical Research in Norfolk, Va.

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