You may have heard mixed messages about carbohydrates in the media: Athletes tout "carbs" for their high-energy benefits, but some sources say they are empty calories and recommend limiting them to help with weight control. What's the real story on carbs, and what role do they play in your diet? The answers depend upon the type of carbohydrate foods you eat.
Separating the Good From the Bad
Not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbohydrates provide a lot of calories and energy, but they don't offer much nutritional value. Examples of simple carbohydrates include white bread, white rice or pasta, refined cereals, cookies, cake, junk food, and sugars.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are packed with minerals, protein, and fiber — all necessary for you and your baby. Vegetables; fruits; whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta; brown rice, dried beans and peas; and potatoes steamed or baked in their skins are all complex carbohydrates.
Benefits of Complex Carbs
The Institute of Medicine suggests that carbohydrates should make up between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. This may sound like a lot, but consider these bonus health benefits for moms-to-be: The fiber in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, helps ease any constipation you might experience while pregnant. Some women find that carbs also help decrease nausea in the first trimester.
Kitchen HelpersYou can squeeze the most nutrition out of carbohydrate foods by following these tips:
1. Eat vegetables and fruits that are fresh or frozen. They have a higher nutritional value than the canned variety. Try munching on raw veggies and fruits every day as a snack.
2. When cooking vegetables, stir-fry, microwave, or steam them lightly so they'll retain their vitamins and minerals.
3. Whenever possible, skip the rich sauces and butter on your vegetables. These high-fat toppings are filling and leave less room for more nutritious foods.