The George Mateljan Foundation is a non-profit organization with no commercial influence, which provides this website for you free of charge. We are dedicated to making the world a healthier place by providing you with cutting-edge information about why the World's Healthiest Foods are the key to vibrant health and energy and how you can easily make them a part of your healthy lifestyle.

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What are the Healthiest Carbohydrates?

It would be difficult to find a hotter topic in the world of nutrition than carbs. Or to be more specific: low-carb, no-carb, and carb-smart foods.

Thanks to the Zone diet, and the Atkins diet, and the South Beach diet, and the Paleolithic Prescription, many people have become aware of carbohydrates as a controversial part of the diet. Here are some basic facts you should know about carbs before you make up your mind about your own carb intake.

First and foremost, humans have always relied on carbs for part of their nourishment. Carbs include sugars, starches, and most fibers, and carbs are found in virtually all plant foods. A cup of shredded iceberg lettuce has carbs (only 1 gram, however). A cup of green peas has 24 grams of carbs (6 grams of sugar, 10 grams of starch, and 8 grams of fiber). Fruits, grains, beans, nuts, seeds - they all contain carbs. (Although nuts and seeds are similar to lettuce insofar as they contain very few carbs, along the lines of 5 grams per ounce (3 grams of fiber, gram of sugar, and 1 grams of starch).

Animal foods are another matter. Animals store some starch in their muscles and liver, and have some circulating sugars, but not very much in comparison to plants. There are basically no carbs in an 8-ounce steak, or in a chicken breast. For an egg, the carb level creeps up to gram - but that's it. Not until we come to milk do we see the carb level increase. This time it's due to the milk sugar (lactose), which is found in cow's milk at approximately 10-12 grams per cup.

From our perspective at the World's Healthiest Foods, the biggest problem with our U.S. diet is not so much the total amount of carbs, but the quality of our carbs. We are averaging somewhere around 19% of our total calories from highly processed starch (wheat flour) products (about 100 grams of very low-nutrient carbs), and another 20 teaspoon's worth of added sugar per day. (The sugar adds about 80 more grams of sugar). The total her is 180 grams of carbs that bring very little to the plate in terms of nourishment. On our website site, you won't find any high-carb recipes unless those carbs contain a wealth of nutrients in exchange.

We recommend upgrading the quality of your carbs regardless of how many carbs you eat.

The question of how many carbs to eat does not have one clear-cut answer. Clearly, our understanding of "macronutrient balance" (the ratio of protein to carbohydrate to fat in our diet) has been changing over the past 20 years, and the very high-carb diets of the 1970s and 1980s with 75% of calories coming from carbohydrate are being looked upon much differently in 2004. There is a trend away from grain consumption, with vegetables gaining more emphasis as a carb source. High-carb diets may definitely be the wrong way for many people to lose weight. They may also be inappropriate for many people who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar. However, in the case of blood sugar, it's not the carbohydrate designation per se, but where the carbohydrate fall on the glycemic index that seems most important. (The glycemic index is a rating given to foods based on their blood sugar impact). Persons with certain hormonal patterns may also be better off staying away from high-carb intake.

Still, when it comes to carbs, "one size doesn't fit all." To a certain extent, our bodies are meant to run on sugars and starches, and extremely low carb diets can be dangerous over long periods of time. Somewhere around 75-100 grams of carbs or less, our bodies tend to undergo a metabolic shift called ketosis, and while this shift is sometimes used therapeutically (to help control seizures, for example), it is not a natural state of affairs for our body over the long haul.

The World's Healthiest Foods can help you upgrade the quality of your carbs, increase the fiber portion of your carbs, keep your taste buds satisfied, and leave you feeling vital and refreshed. You can also instruct our Recipe Assistant to avoid wheat, rye, barley, and oats (for example) if you're looking for recipes that steer clear of grains. (Just hold down the control button on your keyboard while you are highlighting the foods to be avoided). Experiment and see what combinations feel best, and make your approach to eating your own.