Carbohydrates and fiber are important nutrients

Carbohydrates are a key source of energy, and fiber is important for digestion.

We have all heard about fad diets and those that are “carbohydrate-free,” but regardless of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, or whether weight loss is desired, everyone needs carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the “go-to” fuel for our blood cells, nervous system and brain. With a lack of this important nutrient we would have many physical problems along with rapid aging of the mind. Carbohydrates provide the basic materials for the construction of nearly every part of your body.

Carbohydrates are found mostly in plant foods such as grains, starchy vegetables and fruits. Most animal products have very little carbohydrates, but milk and yogurt are exceptions to this rule. There are quite a few carbohydrates in these two animal products.

Starchy carbohydrates are found in vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash, dried beans, lentils and corn just to name a few. They are also found in pasta and rice products along with breads. If you choose to eat whole grains they are better for you because in processing they have not lost their nutrients where refined grains do lose their nutrient value. Whole grains still have a high percentage of carbohydrates. Sugary carbohydrates are found in candy, jellies, syrups, honey and even in fruit and juice.

Fiber is found in most plant food (along with carbohydrates) such as whole grains and foods with skin (apples and squash are examples) is very important to our body processes. Fiber helps our digestive system and regulates our blood sugar level. When you eat oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, apples along with other high fiber foods, the foods will help regulate your blood sugar level by slowing the process that sugars can get into our blood level. Fiber can also lower blood cholesterol.

Tips for choosing healthy carbohydrates and increasing fiber in your diet:
  • Fill half your plate with a variety of vegetable and whole fruits. A variety of color will add a variety of nutrients.
  • Eat mostly whole grains such as brown rice, whole-grain breads and pasta.
  • Read food labels and choose foods with the first ingredient as a whole grain.
  • When eating breakfast, choose high fiber cereals.
  • Substitute dried beans, peas and lentils for meat a couple time a week.
  • Since whole fruit contains fiber eat fruits instead of drinking juice.
  • When you add fiber to your diet, be sure to drink lots of water to process the fiber.

For more tips on eating healthy visit Michigan State University Extension.

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