All carbohydrates are not created equal. Although some are wonderful sources of energy and essential nutrients, others are simply a sweet waste of calories. What are the best carbohydrates and how should you choose them? This simple guide can help you decide. Understanding the Difference. The health benefits of complex carbohydrates – foods high in starch – are well established. So is the absence of vitamins and minerals in sweets and refined carbohydrates such as candy, cakes, and soft drinks. The important difference between these two types of carbohydrates is the range of nutrition they provide.
Complex carbohydrates are found in nearly all foods of plant origin: fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. These foods, especially when they are only slightly refined, are often high in “nutrient density.” This term compares the overall nutritive value of the ingredients contained in a food to its energy (calorie) content. Because they contain vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, in addition to energy, complex carbohydrates are a highly recommended part of a healthful diet. On the other hand, foods that have had most of their natural goodness refined away are low in nutrient density, supply little or nothing besides calories, and should be avoided in large quantity.
Nutrition experts stress that our sedentary life-style and national tendency toward overweight mean most of us cannot afford too many calories unaccompanied by essential nutrients – the so-called empty calories. Eating low-density foods may either prevent us from meeting our nutritional needs, or may cause us to go over our limit in calories to achieve needed levels of nutrients.