Few dietary components inspire debate like carbohydrates. As food fads change, topics such as good carbs, bad carbs, processed carbs, slow carbs and refined carbs pollute the nutritional landscape and confuse our relationship with this essential nutrient. All types of carbs can play a role in a healthy diet, but your best bet is to choose unprocessed carbs most of the time, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
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Unprocessed carbs refer to carbohydrates that haven't been broken down or made into other foods. These complex carbohydrates and nutritious simple carbohydrates contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals than their processed counterparts and typically have less of an impact on your blood sugar. Processed carbs, such as refined white flour and white sugar, have less fiber, and your body converts them into glucose quickly. Consuming too many processed grains is linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Whole grains are a source of unprocessed carbohydrates. Whole grains have not been stripped of their hull or processed to remove the fiber. The Harvard School of Public Health says that means they've "got a carbohydrate package rich in fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, plant enzymes, hormones, and hundreds of other phytochemicals." A form of complex carbohydrates, whole grains take longer to break down and digest. To get more whole grains in your diet, choose brown rice, wheat berries, bulgur, steel cut oats, millet, buckwheat and quinoa, just to name a few.
Fresh Fruits, Vegetables and Legumes
Fresh vegetables, fruits and legumes count as unprocessed carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables and legumes are considered complex carbohydrates and work in your body much like whole grains. Fruits and vegetables are considered simple carbohydrates because their sugars break down more easily. When they're fresh or minimally altered, they contain fiber and a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Processing them into juices, jams, pies, candies and other foods typically removes the fiber and strips away the nutrients.
Sugars are a type of carbohydrate and can also be divided into processed and unprocessed types. Unprocessed sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables and milk. These sugars, called lactose and fructose, don't need to be avoided, the MayoClinic.com says, because they're derived from healthy, nutritious foods. Added sugars are the types of processed sugars you need to look out for. Unprocessed sugars have been created by food manufacturers and include high fructose corn syrup and table sugar. Processed sugars are typically found in candies and desserts. Too many processed or added sugars in your diet leads to obesity, chronic disease, tooth decay and poor nutrition, according to MayoClinic.com. Limit added sugar consumption to less than 15 percent of your total calories.