Carbohydrates are present in most foods. Though they've gotten a bad reputation in recent times with the popularity of low-carb diets, the right kinds of carbohydrates are an important part of the diet. Good carbohydrates -- that is, the ones that don't cause rapid spikes and crashes in your blood glucose levels -- are important at breakfast to give you and your family the energy needed to start the day.
Kinds of Carbohydrates
There used to be one division separating good carbohydrates from bad carbohydrates. Some were simple, others were complex, and the latter were the good ones. It's actually more complicated than that. Now carbohydrates are evaluated by their glycemic index, or how fast a spike in blood sugar levels they cause. Fruit, for example, provides simple carbohydrates in the form of sugar, but they are good carbohydrates. They don't cause rapid spikes, and fruit is a healthy food. Potatoes contain complex carbohydrates in the form of starch, and they are nutritious, but their carbohydrates cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. So, potatoes are primarily a source of bad carbohydrates. The third dietary form of carbohydrates, fiber, is the best source.
Why Worry About Kinds of Carbohydrates
Good carbohydrates are an important source of energy, and they come packaged with soluble or insoluble dietary fiber, another essential part of a healthy diet. They help prevent diabetes and control weight. Bad carbohydrates, on the other hand, trigger quick spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. A diet rich in these carbohydrates is associated with a number of serious health risks, including the chances of becoming overweight and obese, and of developing diabetes, heart disease and colorectal cancer. The blood glucose level spikes and crashes can be disruptive to energy levels, focus and even mood. That makes them a particularly poor choice at breakfast, as you and your family head off to face the day at work, school or elsewhere.
Sources of Good Carbohydrates
Whole grains are the main source of good carbohydrates. Whole grains are just what they sound like: the entire edible part of the grain. This is in contrast to refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, which have been stripped of their bran and germ. When grains have their outer parts removed, most of their nutritional value is removed with it. Although many refined grains, including those used for breakfast cereals, are enriched with nutrients after processing, their fiber content, and source of good carbohydrates, is not restored. Other plant-based foods, including fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, are also sources of dietary fiber and good carbohydrates.
Good Carbohydrates for Breakfast
Cereal is the most common breakfast food in America, especially for kids. Look for products made from whole grains. Whole wheat, whole corn, whole oats or another whole grain must be the first ingredient listed. But even many whole grain cereals have ridiculous quantities of added sugar. Check the label to make sure a cereal doesn't have more than a few grams per serving. Oatmeal is an excellent source of good carbohydrates at breakfast, too, when there's time for it. Add a little honey or fresh fruit to make it more appealing to kids, rather than heaping spoonfuls of sugar. Adding fruit to hot or cold cereal is always a nutritious choice for good carbohydrates. Put chopped vegetables in omelets, too. Make these omelets more appealing to your kids by mixing some ranch-flavored dry mix into the eggs. Wrap the omelet up in a whole wheat tortilla for an easy-to-eat breakfast filled with good carbs. Serve the family whole wheat or whole grain toast, and buy whole grain bagels, muffins and other baked breakfast goods.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- Harvard Health Publications: Breaking the Fast
- Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Breakfast
- MayoClinic.com: Whole Grains: Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet
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