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Complex Carbohydrate Charge continued...

Although carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation, the nutrient is still the body's preferred source of energy, says Dave Grotto, RD, director of nutrition at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Evanston, Ill. Low-carb diets, he says, initially boost energy but deplete it in the long run.

The best way to maximize the body's potential for energy is to eat a combination of complex and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates, which are slow burning, should make up the bulk of the carbohydrates we eat, says Grotto. Whole grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and carrots fall into this category.

This does not mean ignoring simple carbohydrates with a faster burn, such as those found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. They can provide an immediate source of energy.

Simple sugars found in candy bars, soft drinks, and cookies can also provide a quick boost, but then a big letdown afterward.

"You are going to get a rise in energy from the original hit of the sugar," says John W. Finley, associate editor of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, "but then, particularly for diabetics, sugar can drop below the baseline where it started." Finley says the peak effect of simple sugar normally lasts 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the dose.

Without complex carbohydrates to sustain blood sugars, the body loses steam. "A diet that is based in complex carbohydrates," Grotto says, "seems to have less of that peak and valley of blood sugar effect."

It is also important to make sure your complex carbohydrates have fiber, says Dee Sandquist, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Fiber helps the carbohydrates that we eat to be more slowly absorbed by the body," she says. "So, therefore, the body gets a more balanced release of energy, as opposed to the quick burst of energy."

Many processed carbohydrates, such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, contain little or no fiber, resulting in expending energy at a rapid rate. To ensure you have a food rich in fiber, check the label. A slice of bread should contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber.

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