Not all carbs are created equal.
A growing body of evidence suggests that whole grains are a key component of a healthy diet. As opposed to their refined cousins, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber (which is key for healthy digestion), protein (which helps fill you up and power your muscles), and several key vitamins and minerals.
In fact, the plant-based diet, which has been increasingly championed by nutritionists and dietitians as the best for your brain and body, has whole grains as one if its cornerstones.
Whole grains vs. ‘stripped carbs’
The key difference between whole grains and processed carbohydrates – like white rice and the wheat in white bread – is that the latter has had its nutritious, fiber-rich outer shells, such as the germ and bran, stripped out in a factory. The end result is soft bread, smooth rice, and sweet cereal that gets processed by the body almost as quickly as it was ingested.
- Business Insider / Anaele Pelisson
But while refined carbs may taste delicious, experts agree that they don’t belong in a healthy diet. Whereas their whole-grain counterparts get digested slowly and fill you up for hours, refined carbs are processed quickly by the body and rapidly turned into sugar.
This is why those ingredients can contribute to weight gain, according to Roxanne B. Sukol, a preventive medicine specialist and the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Enterprise. In the book “Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America,” Sukol told author and chef Michael Ruhlman that people should think of things like white rice and white bread simply as “stripped carbs.”
Why plant-based diets are good for the body
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Cara Anselmo, a nutritionist and dietitian at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, told Business Insider that she frequently advises her clients to ramp up their intake of plant-based foods like whole grains and cut back on red meat and refined carbohydrates like white bread.
“It’s definitely easiest to overdo it with drinks, refined carbs, foods that have added sugar or are highly processed – those are things that we just tend to keep going,” Anselmo said.
To keep your energy levels up and help you feel healthy in the long term, your diet needs to feed more than your stomach, she said. It has to satiate your muscles, which crave protein; your digestive system, which runs best with fiber; and your tissues and bones, which work optimally when they’re getting vitamins from food.
A plant-based diet’s combination of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, and fats accomplishes that goal, Nichola Whitehead, a registered dietitian with a private practice in the UK, told Business Insider.
“You need to have a balanced meal – things like whole grains, fiber, and vegetables – in order to sustain your blood sugar. Empty calories [like white bread or white rice] give a temporary fix,” she said.