Processed foods offer convenience, but they are often also a source of poor nutrition including the types of processed carbohydrates regularly used. Although the body ‘s cellular processes function on the basic sugar glucose, the direct consumption of simple, refined sugars places strain on the body. By knowing what types of carbohydrates to eat and to avoid, you can dramatically improve the nutritional quality of your diet.
Carbohydrates are essential sources of energy, fiber, and nutrients. When overly processed, these components are stripped away reducing the health benefits. When reading food labels, look for the following simple sugars that are often reworded to trick consumers into thinking they are eating a healthier product:
Forms of Processed Simple Sugars:
- sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose
- corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup
- malts (ie malted barley)
- cane sugar
- concentrated fruit juice
- brown sugar
- inverted sugar
- brown rice syrup
- raw sugar crystals
The term ‘enriched’ is highly misleading for the consumer. When you see ‘enriched flour’, this grain product has been highly refined. The fiber and nutritious germ have been stripped away taking with it other vitamins and minerals. The product then has minerals, vitamins, and other components added to try to restore nutritional value. Enriched flours are highly processed, have a high glycemix index (digest very quickly causing spikes in insulin levels), and should be avoided.
Tips for Consuming the Most Nutritious Carbohydrates:
- Read food labels and see what are the first few main ingredients.
- Avoid enriched flours and look for “whole grain” as the primary ingredient. “Whole Wheat” products have some improved nutritional value, but whole grain means the fiber and germ has been left in the flour.
- If there are simple sugars in the product, they should be far down the list of ingredients-compare the fiber and sugar levels among various products (like breakfast cereals)-go for the highest fiber content and the lowest ‘sugar’ content.
- Be mindful of “low fat/ reduced fat" products-often low fat products are replaced with high amounts of sugars or sodium to compensate for the fat reduction
- Just because it says “organic” does not mean it is now healthy for you-if it is a simple sugar, it still should be avoided (ie watch carefully at the ‘organic sugar’ content of breakfast cereals and cereal bars).
- As much as possible, eat whole foods like vegetables and fruit – add extra vegetables and fruits to pre-made products like pasta, cereal, pizza, and soups to boost the nutritional value of your meal.
- Choose whole fruit more often over fruit juices, fruit juices are often pasteurized (killing much of the nutrients) and have little fiber content.