What Makes Refined Carbohydrates So Unhealthy? RDs Explain Why They’re Not the Most Nutritious Option

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Carbohydrates have received a bad reputation over the years, but not all carbohydrates are harmful to health. In fact, carbohydrates are one of the main nutrients your body needs on a daily basis to function properly – you just need to know which type of carbohydrate to reach. There are whole, unrefined carbohydrates that come from nutritious foods – whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Then there are refined carbohydrates, which are often called processed carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates are what you should watch out for and eat them in limited quantities. why? Because they contain very few nutrients that your body can actually use.

Related: How Much Sugar? Here’s where to limit your sugar intake every day

What exactly are refined carbohydrates?

“Refined carbohydrates are carbohydrate foods that have been processed to remove the natural fiber, bran, germ, and nutrients found in these parts of the grain,” says Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, a nutrition consultant at Freshbit, an AI-based visual diet diary app. . “What’s left is the starch and calorie portion of the grain, with minimal protein.”

Refined carbohydrates generally fall into two categories: refined grains and added sugars.

refined grains

White flour is probably the most well-known refined grain, appearing in everything from bread and pasta to pretzels, cakes, snack bars, and biscuits. “Whole grains are made up of three parts: the bran, the embryo, and the endosperm,” explains DJ Platner, RD, author Superfood swap. “While refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ, which removes many nutrients such as iron, B vitamins, and fiber.”

sugar increase

This is the other main category of refined carbohydrates, and it includes all sugars that are not naturally found in a whole food, such as fruit. “Added sugar is definitely everywhere, and there are many synonyms for sugar such as cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, and dextrose,” says Plattner. “Even brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup are considered added sugar.” Added sugar can be deceptive and shows up in salad dressings, sauces, yogurt, and cereals, making it hard to avoid if you’re not careful to read packaged food ingredient labels.

Related: Why experts say you should add more sprouted grains to your diet

Are Refined Carbs Really Bad for You?

While this type of carbohydrate is undoubtedly delicious, it is unfortunately not the best option for you. “Refined carbohydrates are devoid of essential nutrients, such as B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and selenium — all of which are found in the bran and germ. [that get removed when processed]Minchin says.

“In addition to, [the lack of] The fiber in refined carbs, she adds, equates to higher blood sugar and a risk of poor blood sugar management.

Because refined carbohydrates lack any real nutrition, they are not very satiating or satisfying, and the body digests them quickly. This can often result in a need to eat more food, difficulty managing diet choices, cravings, and a healthy weight.

Related: 7 ways to get rid of sugar addiction and curb food cravings

What is the appropriate amount to consume?

Don’t panic: You don’t need to cut out the tastiest foods from your life entirely—but as with all things, moderation is your smartest move when it comes to things like white bread products, white rice, pasta, soda/smoothies, packaged snacks, and other refined carbs.

“Ideally, refined carbohydrates should be consumed in moderation: up to two to three servings per week for the average person,” Minchin says. “For someone with poor blood sugar regulation or diabetes, eating refined carbohydrates more often may be recommended.”

One healthy way to not feel like you’re losing out on carbohydrates is to make sure to prioritize whole grains over refined grains. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we make “half our whole grains,” says Plattner. “That means, for women (30 to 60 years old) the total daily goal for grains is 5 to 7 ounces per day, and for men, 7 to 10 equivalent ounces per day — and only half of those are refined carbohydrates.”

To put that in perspective, one ounce equals one slice of bread, one cup of cereal, or ½ cup of cooked Rice or pasta.

Be careful with added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugar to 6 teaspoons (25 grams, or 100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (36 grams, or 150 calories) for men.

Related: This is the healthiest bread, according to a registered dietitian

Refined carbohydrates sometimes have their advantages.

Although the bad ultimately outweighs the good, refined carbohydrates provide quick energy in no time. “Rapid-digesting energy before exercise is important to prevent cramps that can come from eating fiber right before exercise,” says Minchin, who recommends something like fresh fruit juice or white bread for these conditions. “Plus, eating something fast-digesting right after a workout can boost muscle recovery and store the protein you’re consuming to help maximize its muscle-building effect.”

Just be sure to avoid any added sugars where possible. If you’re going to get refined carbs, it’s best to find those rich in added vitamins and minerals, Blatner advises. “It’s always best to choose whole grains,” she says.

Related: What does eating a balanced diet actually mean? Breaking down the ratio of a ‘good’ to a ‘bad’ diet

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