Good and Bad Carbs for Heart Health

May 13, 2011
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It is recommended that we consume about 65% of carbohydrates daily, which is more than that of protein and fat. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy – it gives our body the fuel it needs to function.  Since we consume so much carbohydrates, it is important to choose those that promote good cardiovascular health.

There are 2 classifications of carbohydrates: simple and complex. The classification is based on the chemical structure and reflects how quickly sugar is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates are chemically made of one or two sugars and are absorbed quickly in our bodies. Complex carbohydrates take the longest to digest and are made up of three or more linked sugars.

For good cardiovascular health, it is important to choose the right carbohydrates into your diet. “Good” carbs are foods in their natural form that provide the nutrients and fiber that are missing from refined products. These would be complex carbohydrates, which include whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit — all of which are good for your heart. The so called, “bad” carbs are carbohydrates that provide sugar (usually added sugar as opposed to the natural occurring sugars in foods like fresh fruit and milk) with few or no nutrients. These processed, refined foods are wide ranging from soda to doughnuts to white bread. “Bad” carbs usually present two problems: They don’t promote good health and they keep you from eating foods that do.

Good Carbs for Good Health

Fruits and vegetables. These are great low-calorie sources of carbohydrates, packing in vitamins and minerals and, when eaten in their most natural form, fiber — that’s why you’ll get more value from eating fruits whole rather than fruit juices. The most protective foods are:
•    green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, watercress, and kale
•    cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower
•    citrus fruits including oranges and grapefruit
•    other fruits and vegetables with a high vitamin C content, like black currants, kiwi fruit, and red peppers

Whole grains. Wheat, barley, and rye. Researchers have found a 20 to 40 percent risk reduction for coronary heart disease with a diet high in whole, non-refined grains. Bran content seems to be a particularly essential component in lowering cardiovascular disease risk.

Legumes, dried peas, and beans. Vegetables classified as legumes, such as beans and peas, should also be eaten nearly every day, as ingredients in soups and stews or tossed into a heart-healthy salad. A major study showed they can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease when eaten regularly.

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Author: Jenny Carlton