You’d think a food called “refined” would be good for you, right?
But as anyone trying to eat healthy knows, that’s not the case with refined carbohydrates. These are the carbs derived from grains that have been stripped of their nutrients during processing (as opposed to whole grains, which have not been processed).
Sometimes vitamins and minerals are added back in, but generally, the grain becomes a nutritionally empty simple sugar and the basis of starchy carbs such as white bread, cookies, and crackers. What’s tricky is that refined carbs turn up in all sorts of healthy-looking items, and that can wreck your resolve to eat better.
White Rice in Your Sushi Roll
Sushi is super healthy…except for the white rice, which, like white flour, has been refined of its nutrients, says Brittany Kohn, R.D., nutritionist at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. When you can, order your salmon roll with brown rice, which is unprocessed and retains all the good stuff stripped out of the white kind, she says.
Wheat or Multigrain Bread
These terms are designed to trick consumers into thinking the bread is made from unprocessed whole grains when, in reality, "100 percent whole wheat" or "100 percent whole grain" is what you want to go for, says Kohn. Both of those options are made from unprocessed flour.
Oatmeal is often thought of as the ultimate healthy breakfast—but if you're buying the instant flavored kind, we have some bad news for you: Those added sugars count as refined carbs. “Choose rolled or steel-cut oats instead,” says Kohn. That will allow you to control how much of the sweet stuff you're adding (if any).
Because good-for-you snack staples are often brown, it’s easy to assume pretzels are made with unprocessed whole grains. In fact, pretzels are derived from all-purpose flour or enriched wheat flour, both of which have been refined, says Kohn. A better option when you need a crunchy snack: crackers that are labelled “whole wheat” or “whole grain.”
Unless you’re sure that the ones in your salad are made from 100 percent whole-wheat bread, these toasted add-ins are likely derived from nutrient-free, starchy white bread, says Kohn. If you can’t find the unrefined kind, get your good-carb crunch from a sprinkling of sunflower seeds or almonds instead.
Breakfast Cereals and Bars
You know to stay away from the sugar-coated kid-friendly types. “But many healthy-sounding cereals are also made from refined grains,” says Kohn. Look for “whole grain” cereals that keep it under five grams of sugar per serving and pack at least four grams of fibre. Make sure “whole grain” is listed as the first ingredient and that the label lists no more than five ingredients total.