Heart Health Series: Carbs

Heart Health Series: Carbs

Heart Health Series: Carbs

When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, nutrition is a key player. Eating whole grains every day is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Carbohydrates often have a bad reputation, but they play an important role as fuel for our bodies. Understanding the different types and choosing the right portion sizes may be vital in promoting a healthy heart.

What are Carbs?

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for our bodies, and they are especially important for our heart because it requires a constant supply of energy to function properly. Carbs are found in foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy, and sweet treats.

Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by our bodies and then absorbed into the bloodstream. When this happens, our blood glucose levels increase, and insulin is produced by the pancreas. This hormone helps move glucose (sugar) from our blood into our cells, where it is utilized for energy. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. 

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbs are made up of just one or two sugars while complex carbs are made up of multiple sugar units. Simple carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary drinks and processed foods, can lead to inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are a better choice for a healthy heart.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs are composed of simple sugars that are digested quickly and cause a rapid spike in blood glucose levels. This can lead to a crash in energy and hunger shortly after consuming them. There are two types of simple sugars: natural and added. Natural sugars are found in fruits and milk and are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber; all of which are good for your heart and overall health. On the other hand, added sugars only provide calories and lack the benefits of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These added sugars may contribute to weight gain if consumed excessively.

Refined grains are considered processed foods and lack fiber and nutrients. White flour and rice are examples of refined grains, but enriched or fortified options can still offer beneficial b vitamins and minerals.

It is important to limit simple carbs, especially those that contain added sugars such as candy, soda, honey, refined breakfast cereal, and baked goods. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to health issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 tsp for women and 9 tsp for men of added sugars daily. Instead, focus on consuming foods that are rich in naturally occurring sugars, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Complex Carbohydrates & Fiber

Unlike simple carbs, complex carbs take longer to break down and are digested slowly, leading to a more gradual increase in blood glucose. Complex carbs are found in whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies, and starchy foods like sweet potatoes. They provide a longer-lasting source of energy and keep you feeling full for longer periods due to its fiber content. 

Fibers aren’t digested by the body. Instead, they help promote digestive health by fueling beneficial gut bacteria and keeping bowel movements comfortable and regular.  While insoluble and soluble fiber are both beneficial to the body, soluble fiber in particular has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol by binding to it in the small intestine. Once inside the small intestine, the fiber attaches to the cholesterol particles, preventing them from entering your bloodstream and traveling to other parts of the body. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that women should generally consume 25–28 grams of fiber per day and men should aim for 31–34 grams of fiber. 

Whole Grains

Whole grains are complex carbs that contain three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Each part of the grain contains health-promoting nutrients. The bran is the fiber-rich part that is packed with B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. The germ is the core of the seed, which is rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. The endosperm is the interior layer that houses the carbohydrates, protein, small amounts of B vitamins, and other minerals. Refined grains are less nutritious because the bran and germ are stripped away in the milling process.

Examples of whole grains: 

  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Farro
  • Buckwheat

Heart Health Carb Tips for Success

Choose Minimally and Unprocessed Foods

This means opting for whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats, rather than refined grains like white bread and pasta. Additionally, choosing fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, such as sweet potatoes, leafy greens, legumes and beans can also provide a healthy source of carbohydrates. It's important to remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal and that choosing the right ones can have a positive impact on your overall health. By making smart choices and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, you can ensure that you are getting the nutrients your body needs to function at its best.

Limit Dining Out

Cooking at home allows you to control what is in your food, express creativity, save money, and eat healthier. When you eat out, you don’t always know what is going in your food. Cooking at home allows you to use fresh ingredients, control portion sizes, and avoid the temptation of unhealthy options. Additionally, homecooked meals can be a fun and creative activity that you can share with friends and family. 

Nutrition for Longevity Meals 

Adopting a healthy diet is a gradual process that involves making small, yet positive shifts. Healthy eating can be challenging, especially with busy lifestyles when there isn't enough time to plan, shop, prep, and cook. Prioritizing your health and making conscious choices can be effortless with Nutrition for Longevity's home-delivered meals.  We offer nutritionally curated plant-forward meals that are designed to support a healthy lifestyle.  Let us take the guesswork out of meal planning and fuel your body with wholesome, heart-healthy ingredients. Why not give it a try? Your body will thank you for it.

Get Ready for the next portion of the blog series: Protein and Fats. Stay Tuned for Parts 2 and 3!