Trading some of your saturated-fat calories for calories from carbohydrates may not be the healthiest choice for your heart, according to an article published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in March 2010. Increasing carbohydrate consumption, especially if you do so with refined or highly processed carbs, may actually increase your heart disease risk. Instead, limit processed carbohydrates and trade saturated fat for foods containing unsaturated fat or unprocessed or minimally processed carbs.
Eating whole grains may help lower your blood sugar, cholesterol and weight, at least in part due to the extra fiber they contain compared to refined grains, according to a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in December 2007. White rice, cornmeal and oats are examples of processed grains, since they have been changed from their natural form, even though the oats are still whole grains.
Refined grains are often used to make breads, pasta, cookies, crackers and other baked goods. Look for foods with ingredients lists that contain only whole grains, or that at least start with whole grains, for the most health benefits. Products in the grocery store made with 100-percent whole grains are processed, since they have been changed from their natural form, but these can still be nutritious choices if they don't contain a lot of sugar, sodium or fat.
Frozen, Canned and Dried Fruits
Whole, fresh fruits are the only ones that aren't considered processed. If they are chopped up for convenience or frozen, canned or dried for preservation, they are processed. Choose minimally processed fruits that don't have any added sugar. Most Americans already have too much added sugar in their diet, and this extra sugar may increase their risk for heart disease and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar to no more than 100 calories a day, and that men limit added sugar to no more than 150 calories a day. If fresh fruit isn't available, go for plain frozen fruit, unsweetened dried fruit or canned fruit packed in water to limit your sugar intake.
Frozen, Canned and Dried Vegetables
Anything other than whole, fresh vegetables is processed, including those cute little baby carrots at the grocery store. This doesn't necessarily mean they aren't healthy. Limit frozen vegetables that contain added sauces and canned vegetables, as these processed carbs can be high in sodium. Americans consume an average of 3,436 milligrams of sodium per day, which is much higher than the recommended upper limit of 2,300 milligrams. Getting too much sodium in your diet can increase your blood pressure and your risk for stroke and heart disease.
Any food containing added sugar has processed carbs. Treats like candies and sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited because they are sources of empty calories, providing a lot of calories without any real nutritional benefit. Other foods containing naturally occurring sugars, including fruits and milk, are healthier because they provide essential nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Saturated Fat, Carbohydrate, and Cardiovascular Disease
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Surprise! This Is Processed Too!
- MedlinePlus: Carbohydrates
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt)
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Intake of Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Cereal Fiber Measured with 7-d Diet Records and Associations with Risk Factors for Chronic Disease
- American Heart Association: Sugar 101