Carbohydrates have been the mainstay of diets around the world for thousands of years, but recently they’ve been under attack on the web and in some best-selling diet books, leaving the average person thoroughly confused.
Are carbs really bad for me? What the heck is a carb, anyway? Sodas and spinach are both carbohydrate foods. So are Oreos and oats, pancakes and plums, and cakes and cucumbers. Whether carbs are “good” or “bad” for you depends entirely on the quality of the ones you choose.
It may help you to think of carbohydrate choices on a quality continuum, starting with the healthiest, top-quality choices and progressing to less healthy choices. Make more of your carb choices from the beginning of this list than from the end, and you’ll be eating well. It’s as simple as that.
Sara and I just returned from Rome, where both of us spoke at a meeting of the International Carb Quality Consortium, chaired by Drs. Walter Willett and David Jenkins. As the studies and graphs by an eminent group of the world’s top carbohydrate scientists demonstrated, there are many complex ways to rate the quality of carbohydrates. Counting, scoring, and rating foods can take the enjoyment out of eating, however—and eating is meant to be one of life’s major pleasures. If you simply use common sense to favor the most intact, whole carbohydrate choices as outlined above, there’s no need to eat by the numbers.
So simply keep the Carb Quality continuum above in mind, and you’re equipped to go forth and enjoy healthy carbohydrates without worrying about the scare-mongering from some websites and diet books. Or better still, download a PDF copy, and post it in your kitchen!
Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies