Carbohydrates are necessary for your health, but not all carbs are equal. Healthy carbohydrate sources include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. You’ll typically find unhealthy carbohydrates — often called refined, bad, empty or simple carbs — in pre-packaged meals and fast foods. The ingredients in these foods undergo heavy processing, which diminishes their health benefits. For example, to produce refined grains, manufacturers strip whole grains of healthy components that provide dietary fiber and other nutrients. Many consumers prefer products made with refined ingredients, but the combination of high calories and low nutrition makes these foods unhealthy.
Eliminate sodas, added-sugar fruit juices, energy drinks, coffee creamers and other beverages that contain large amounts of refined sugar. Choose water, milk or no-sugar-added fruit juice instead. The natural sugars that, for example, 100-percent apple juice contains occur in lesser amounts than the refined sugars manufacturers add, such as high fructose corn syrup. Also, healthier beverages typically supply many more vitamins and minerals.
Avoid white bread, white pasta and commercially baked cookies, cakes, muffins and any other products that use refined flour. While these products often taste good, they don’t provide much dietary fiber or nutrition compared to whole-grain products.
Opt for bread, pasta, crackers and other baked goods that contain such whole grains as wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat, whole rye, buckwheat, rolled oats and whole-grain barley. Whole grains retain their bran and germ, unlike refined grains, which makes them an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron and many B-vitamins.
Skip the candy. It’s high sugar content paired with a lack of nutrients makes it an unhealthy source of calories.
Choose artificially sweetened products over sugar-containing products. Artificial sweeteners don’t increase caloric content significantly, so they are relatively healthy to eat. However, naturally-sweetened foods, such as fruits, are still preferable to artificially sweetened foods because fresh foods often contain more accompanying nutrients than processed foods.
- When you go out to eat, ask for healthy substitutions. For example, opt for brown rice over white rice, salad instead of fries, and whole-grain wraps or large lettuce leaves instead of white sandwich bread. Fast food restaurants might not offer many healthy options, so avoid them whenever possible.