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Good Carbohydrates vs. Bad Ones

By Greg Zacarese

Which Carbohydrates are good?

Carbohydrates have a bad reputation. We’ve all heard people say “I’m eliminating carbs” or “Carbs are bad for you.” People might try the ketogenic diet which eliminates most carbs in order to lose weight. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies, and no other nutrient gives us the same type of energy as carbohydrates do. So, instead of eliminating them outright, we need to choose the good ones. Whole grains are always the best option.

A whole grain is composed of three parts:

  • Bran is the layer of whole grain that protects the seed. This contains trace minerals, B vitamins, and fiber.
  • Endosperm is the largest part of the whole grain. This is the energy for the seed. It encompasses starch, some protein, and some B vitamins.
  • Germ is the seed of the whole grain. This has vitamins E, B vitamins, essential fats, and some trace minerals.

Sometimes grains are refined to improve their shelf life. During this process the bran and the germ are removed, and the endosperm is all that’s left. Unfortunately, trace minerals, B vitamins, fiber, and essential fats are also removed. An enrichment process, in which some artificial vitamins and minerals are sprayed onto the refined grains, will not provide the same quality of nutrients as the whole grain left intact.

In order to determine which grains are whole grains, always look at the ingredients. For example, when buying bread, look for 100% whole wheat bread. The first ingredient should be whole grain wheat flour. If it says enriched or bleached wheat flour, then it is refined, and won’t give you the same quality nutrition as the whole grain.

Examples of whole grains include 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, or crackers; whole oats/oatmeal; whole grain barley; bulgur; brown and wild rice; quinoa; buckwheat; corn; popcorn; millet; and whole rye.

Examples of refined grains include white bread, pasta, and crackers; white rice; white flour; most breakfast cereals such as corn flakes; pretzels; couscous; de-germed cornmeal; and pita bread.

Remember, carbohydrates are not the enemy. We need carbohydrates as a main source of energy, and for proper brain function. Choosing good whole grain carbs over refined carbs is the smart way to go!


Greg Zacarese is a Dietetic Intern with the University of SODEXO with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program


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