Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Why Carbohydrates Matter to You
The right type of carbohydrates can boost your health!
Avoid Excess “Added Sugars”
“Added sugars, also known as caloric sweeteners, are sugars and syrups that
are added to foods at the table or during processing or preparation (such as
high fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages and baked products),” explains
Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman with the American Dietetic
Added sugars supply calories but few or no nutrients, Gerbstadt says.
“Americans are very aware of low-fat diets and because of that we’ve been
eating more fat-free and low-fat products,” notes Shanthy Bowman, USDA food
scientist and author of a recently published study on sugar in the American
“But what many people don't know is that in many of these products, sugar is
being substituted for fat, so we've really been trading fat for sugar,” Bowman
The USDA recommends that we get no more than 6% to 10% of our total calories
from added sugar -- that’s about nine teaspoons a day for most of us.
Use the Nutrition Label to Track Your Carbohydrates
The Nutrition Facts section on food labels can help you sort the good carbs
from the bad carbs. Here’s what to look for on the Nutrition Facts label.
Total Carbohydrate. For tracking the total amount of carbohydrate in
the food, per serving, look for the line that says “Total Carbohydrate.” You’ll
find that often the grams of “fiber,” grams of “sugars” and grams of “other
carbohydrate” will add up to the grams of “total carbohydrate” on the
Dietary Fiber. The line that says Dietary Fiber tells you the total
amount of fiber in the food, per serving. Dietary fiber is the amount of
carbohydrate that is indigestible and will likely pass through the intestinal
tract without being absorbed.
Sugars. “Sugars” tells you the total amount of carbohydrate from
sugar in the food, from all sources -- natural sources like lactose and
fructose as well as added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup. It’s important
to distinguish between natural sugars and added sugars. For example, the
average 1% low-fat milk label will list 15 grams of “sugar” per cup. Those
grams come from the lactose (milk sugars) not from added sweeteners.
To get an idea of how many grams of sugar on the label come from added
sugars – such as high fructose corn syrup or white or brown sugar -- check the
list of ingredients on the label. See if any of those sweeteners are in the top
three or four ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so the
bulk of most food is made up of the first few ingredients.
Other Carbohydrate. The category "other carbohydrate"
represents the digestible carbohydrate that is not considered a sugar (natural
Sugar Alcohols. Some product labels also break out “sugar alcohols”
under “Total Carbohydrate.” In some people, sugar alcohol carbohydrates can
cause intestinal problems such as gas, cramping, or diarrhea. If you look on
the ingredient label, the sugar alcohols are listed as lactitol, mannitol,
maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and others. Many “sugar free” or “reduced calorie”
foods contain some sugar alcohols even when another alternative sweetener like
Splenda is in the product.