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The foods you eat contain different types of carbohydrates (kar-boh-HEYE-drayts). Some kinds are better for you than others. The different types of carbohydrates are:
- Sugars are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products. Foods such as cakes and cookies have had sugars added. Table sugar also is an added sugar. All of these sugars can be converted in your body to glucose, or blood sugar. Your cells "burn" glucose for energy.
- Starches are broken down in your body into sugars. Starches are found in certain vegetables, such as potatoes, beans, peas, and corn. They are also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
- Dietary fibers are carbohydrates that your body cannot digest. They pass through your body without being broken down into sugars. Even though your body does not get energy from fiber, you still need fiber to stay healthy. Fiber helps get rid of excess fats in the intestine, which helps prevent heart disease. Fiber also helps push food through the intestines, which helps prevent constipation. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole-grain foods (such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and brown rice).
In general, you want to limit carbohydrates that increase your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose stays high for too long, you can develop type 2 diabetes. To keep your blood glucose in check, limit the amount of table sugar you eat. Also, limit foods with added sugars. You can tell if a food has added sugars by looking at the ingredients list on the package. Look for terms such as:
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
You also should limit the amount of white potatoes you eat. Eating white potatoes occasionally is fine because they contain important vitamins and minerals. But your body rapidly digests the starch in white potatoes. This can raise your blood glucose level.
Healthy carbohydrates include:
- Natural sugars in fruits, vegetables, milk, and milk products
- Dietary fiber
- Starches in whole-grain foods, beans, peas, and corn
Explore other publications and websites
Added Sugar: Don’t Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners (Copyright © Mayo Clinic) — This publication has information about why added sugar is a health concern and how you can cut back.
Carbohydrates — This site has links to overviews, news, clinical trials, organizations, and more information about carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates — This Web page has the facts to help you separate the hype from the truth about carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way (Copyright © Harvard School of Public Health) — This fact sheet explains what carbohydrates are, why you need them, what low- carb diets are, and the link between carbohydrates and diabetes.
Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) — Eating enough fiber has been shown to have many health benefits. This publication explains the benefits of fiber and how to add fiber to your diet.
Fruit & Vegetable Benefits — This website provides an overview of the health benefits gained by eating fruits and vegetables daily. It has links to more information on how many fruits and vegetables to eat, how using them will help manage weight, and charts to help you learn which nutrients are in certain foods.
Sugar Substitutes: What You Need to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians) — This Web page has answers to questions about common sugar substitutes and their health effects.
Whole Grains: Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet (Copyright © Mayo Clinic) — This publication talks about why whole grains are better than refined grains and how you can add more whole grains to your diet.
Connect with other organizations
American Dietetic Association
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, CDC
Food and Nutrition Information Center, USDA
International Food Information Council Foundation
Content last updated June 17, 2008.
Resources last updated June 17, 2008.
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