Choose Healthy Carbohydrates – Brown Carbs vs White Carbs


Brown carbohydrates are considered whole grains or foods in their natural state while white carbohydrates are often refined grains. Adding more whole grains to our diets and reducing the refined carbs may lead to longer healthier lives.

A whole grain has the entire kernel still intact. The kernel consists of the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran or outer shell protects the seed. It provides fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals. The germ’s function is to provide nourishment to the seed, if it were to sprout, thus providing antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin E. The germ can go rancid in whole grain products and lessen the shelf life if not refrigerated. A refined grain has been processed so that only the endosperm remains, providing energy from carbohydrates and protein.

Whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The fiber, vitamins and minerals all have well-known attributes. Additional benefits from whole grains are antioxidants, lignans, phenolic acids, phytoestrogens, and other phytochemicals. The entire package of nutrients makes adding whole grains to our diet an important step towards good health.

Whole grains are beneficial towards the control of Diabetes because they are more slowly absorbed into the body than refined grains. This leads to better blood sugar control by having the equivalent of a slow drip of carbohydrate into the bloodstream rather than a sudden rush. With a rush of refined sugars, blood glucose levels can become high very quickly which is dangerous to a diabetic. Slowing down carbohydrate absorption is beneficial for all of us because it puts less stress on the pancreas to secrete insulin. In theory this should lower the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where the pancreas fails to secrete enough insulin or a person’s insulin loses its effectiveness.

Although fiber has no nutritional value it offers very important health benefits. Fiber passes through our systems undigested and is classified as soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber in whole grains dissolves in water and forms a gel in our digestive tracts adding bulk which prolongs stomach emptying time so sugars are released and absorbed more slowly. Soluble fiber in oatmeal has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber adds bulk speeding up transit time in the intestines. Insoluble fiber is important to maintaining a healthy pH in the digestive tract. Whole grains fill you up easier and may lead to an overall reduced amount of calories eaten.

Whole grain products can be identified by the ingredient list. Typically if the ingredient lists”whole wheat” or “whole corn” as the first ingredient, the product is a whole grain food item. Another way to identify whole grains in the foods we eat is to read the nutritional facts information and examine the dietary fiber content. If a serving provides more than 3 grams of fiber it most likely contains whole grains.

Refined grains have been milled to remove the bran and germ layer, leaving just the endosperm. The grain is stripped of most of its iron content, fiber, and B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folate). This process improves the shelf life and gives products a finer texture. Manufacturers later “enrich” products by adding synthetic B vitamins and iron back into their products but in lesser quantities. Fiber is not added as part of the enrichment process.

“Wheat flour”is not necessarily a whole grain. Many baked goods are colored brown, often with molasses, and made to look like whole grain. Try to purchase bread that has the words “whole wheat flour” on the label and in the ingredients.

Examples of whole grains are: whole wheat, whole oats, whole grain corn, popcorn, brown and wild rice, whole rye, whole grain barley, buckwheat, quinoa, tritacale, millet, bulgur and sorghum.

Examples of refined grains are: white bread, white flour, white rice, grits, pasta, corn tortillas, pretzels, crackers and degermed cornmeal.

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About Author

Amy is a registered dietitian from Montrose, Colorado who specializes in food and nutrition. She helps clients develop healthy meal plans and nutritional programs to eat right and live a healthier life.

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