Are you worried about carbohydrates in your vegan diet? Unless you eat like the average non-vegan American, you don’t need to be. Here are tips on how to choose healthy carbs.
American diets are packed with sugars from cereals and soft drinks and with super-refined grains that have been stripped of all their benefits. Food manufacturers peel away the fiber-rich bran from cereal grains along with the nutrient-rich germ, leaving behind nothing but starch. And yes, these foods are associated with higher risk for chronic disease and maybe for obesity. As a result, carbs are seen by many as the enemy. But there is a world of difference between a bowl of cooked steel cut oats and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs breakfast cereal.
In contrast to refined carbs, healthy carbs that come packaged in whole plant foods like grains, beans, and potatoes, are good for you. Your intestines love carbohydrates. Or at least the bacteria living there do. Carbohydrate-rich foods are associated with increased growth of the bacteria that may protect us against intestinal cancers and heart disease. And shunning carbohydrate-rich foods makes it difficult to get enough fiber.
The key to including healthy carbs in your diet is to choose ones that are more slowly digested. These slow carbs—which have a low glycemic index—cause gentle, gradual elevations in blood glucose and insulin. Slow and steady release of glucose into the blood is better for you overall and it might help to lower risk for chronic disease. So include carbs in your diet, but make the best choices. Here are five tips for eating carbohydrates healthfully.
5 Ways to Include Healthy Carbs in Your Vegan Diet
1. Go for healthy comfort. Most often, the carb-rich foods we reach for when we feel stressed or sad are cookies and cake. Look instead for comfort in a healthier package. Pasta, a mainstay of Mediterranean diets, is made from durum wheat which is slowly digested. Or try a slice of warm, whole grain sour dough bread spread with a little nut butter. The sour dough slows glucose release. And if you really have to have that cookie, choose one that incorporates healthy ingredients like rolled oats and chopped nuts.
2. Pair up carbohydrates with protein. Packed with protein, healthy carbs, and fiber, beans offer the best of all worlds. Both the protein and resistant starch in beans slow glucose release into the blood. It’s a combination that may also help you feel full longer.
3. Eat big. Generally, products made with finely ground flours are digested more quickly than whole unground grains. It’s okay to have bread and other foods made with flours but choose grains in their whole form most often. Look for breads made without flour and enjoy dishes made with cooked wheat berries, pearled barley and oat groats.
4. Cook plant foods gently. Beans cooked from scratch tend to be digested more slowly because they are often not as thoroughly cooked as canned beans. Likewise, eating fruits and vegetables closer to their raw state slows the digestion of their carbohydrates.
5. Add acid. Acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemon juice and vinegar can lower the glycemic index of a food. So top your pasta with marinara sauce and turn whole grains into main dish salads with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.
Image Credit: wheatberry salad photo via Shutterstock