Carbohydrates get a bad rap, mostly because of misinformation about what they are and what they have to offer. Carbohydrates (carbs) are your body's main source of energy and should be a major part of your total daily intake. However, not all carbs are created equal. There are simple carbohydrates such as sugar or honey and complex carbohydrates such as grains, beans, peas or potatoes.
Both types of carbohydrates are broken down by your body into sugar; but complex carbohydrates are better nutritional choices. Simple carbs contain very few vitamins or minerals, they are digested quickly causing your blood sugar to peak and drop rapidly, and foods made with simple carbs tend to be higher in calories than foods made with complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are digested more slowly, are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals and tend to be more satisfying per calorie.
While natural sugars do have a place in a healthy diet, refined sugars contribute no nutritional value to your diet. We do not eat them to be healthy, we eat them for enjoyment. When refined sugars become a main part of your diet you begin to run into problems. The excess calories without nutritional benefit in foods containing refined sugars can cause you to be overfed and undernourished. Sugar becomes an important nutritional issue when pregnant because of the metabolic changes caused by pregnancy hormones. These changes can cause a mother to experience gestational diabetes, a condition in which the body does not regulate blood sugar levels properly. In many cases, there are no symptoms for the mother even though the baby can have an increased risk for problems if the diabetes goes undetected. If you discover you have gestational diabetes, the first line of defense will be to change you diet to control all sources of carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and some dairy products. Simple carbs tend to be found in foods containing refined sugars (think processed foods, baked goods and candy). You may be surprised how many foods you enjoy are loaded with extra sugars. When reading labels look first at the total carbs, then at the amount of fiber and sugar in the food. If nearly all the carbs are from sugar you might want to choose a different food. Read the ingredients list to see if the sugars are naturally occurring or added. Look for all the types of refined sugars added to the foods: corn syrups, maltodextrin, sugar, brown sugar, raw or invert sugar, corn sweetener, syrup or malt syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, lactose, dextrose, fructose, maltose.
Women with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity may find it more difficult to maintain a healthy carbohydrate intake. Many high fiber convenince foods are made with gluten, leaving these products off limits. Women with gestational diabetes may need to control the overall amount of carbohydrates they consume, while being careful to ensure the carbohydrates are hihg quality complex carbohydrates.
If you struggle with trying to eat healthy during pregnancy, you might be tempted to rely on foods containing simple sugars because of their ease of preparation, sweet taste and high availability. You do not have to sacrifice taste or a quick meal if you plan ahead to use complex carbohydrate foods.
Changing your Carbohydrate Intake
If you decide your diet would benefit from changing the types or amount of carbohydrates you consume, here are some ideas for altering your menu.
Choose bread products made whole grain flours. Better yet, skip the bread and eat whole grains. Oatmeal, barley, brown rice, millet, quinoa and cracked wheat can be used as a side dish, added to soups, stews or casseroles and store well in the refrigerator for a few days.
Bake your sweets at home to be in control of the amount of sugar added. Reduce the amount of sugar used in recipes or look for alternative recipes that use fruit for sweetness.
Keep fresh fruit in the house to use as a dessert or sweet snack instead of sugary treats. Buy sugar in the smallest quantity possible so you are less likely to be tempted to bake something.
Trade in your high sugar beverages for water, milk or tea. If you can not cut down the amount of sugar you add to your coffee, cut down the amount of coffee you drink.
Choose condiments without added sugar. Use mustard, salsa or a bean dip instead of ketchup, barbecue sauce or commercial marinades. Check your salad dressing for hidden sugar, as most contain corn syrup. Avoid sauces or glazes for your vegetables.
Do not add sugar at the table. Learn to eat your fruits in their natural state and use cinnamon to sweeten oatmeal or muffins.