Issue Some carbohydrates are healthier than others. See why carbs are important for your health and which ones to choose

Indian diets are mainly about carbs. With idlis for breakfast, rice or rotis for lunch and dinners, we cannot imagine our lives without carbohydrates. Because of their numerous health benefits, carbohydrates have a rightful place in our diet. However, it is important to choose healthy carbs to maximise their health benefits.

Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:

Fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, seeds and legumes

Types of carbohydrates

Sugar: It is the simplest forms of carbohydrates. Sugar occurs naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Sugars include fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose). Limit simple sugars since they are associated with weight gain, abdominal obesity, heart diseases and diabetes.

Starch: Starch is made of sugar units bonded together. Starch occurs naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas. These can be in our diets in good proportions.

Fibre: Fibre also is made of sugar units bonded together. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans and peas are among foods that are naturally rich in fibre. Prefer these in maximum portions since they are loaded with health benefits.

Choosing carbohydrates wisely

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, and they also provide many important nutrients. Still, not all carbs are created equal. Here’s how to make healthy carbohydrates work in a balanced diet:

Emphasise fibre-rich fruits and vegetables. Aim for whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar. They’re better options than fruit juices and dried fruits, which are concentrated sources of natural sugar and therefore have more calories. Also, whole fruits and vegetables add fibre, water and bulk, and help you feel fuller on fewer calories.

Choose whole grains. All types of grains are good sources of carbohydrates. They’re also rich in vitamins and minerals and naturally low in fat. But whole grains are healthier choices than are refined grains. Whole grains are better sources of fibre and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Refined grains go through a process that strips out certain parts of the grain — along with some of the nutrients and fibre.

Stick to low-fat dairy products. Milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein, plus many other vitamins and minerals. Choose the low-fat versions, though, to help limit calories and saturated fat. And beware of dairy products that have added sugar.

Don't forget beans and legumes. Legumes, beans, peas and lentils are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They also have beneficial fats, and soluble and insoluble fibre. Because they’re a good source of protein, legumes can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more saturated fat and cholesterol.

Limit added sugars. Added sugar probably isn’t harmful in small amounts. But there’s no health advantage to consuming any amount of added sugar. In fact, too much added sugar, and in some cases naturally occurring sugar, can lead to such health problems as tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Whole grains are better sources of fibre and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium.

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