Carbs, carbs, carbs. Should we eat them or not? Are they really as fattening as some people would have you believe? Do we really need them? And should all carbs be treated equally? The list of questions is endless and carbs have definitely received a bad rap in the media recently, especially with fat making a bit of a come back.
Carbohydrate foods are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide the body with the body’s main energy source, supplying the brain, muscles and blood cells with glucose to utilise for our everyday functioning.
The important thing to understand about carbohydrates is that they are not all created equal.
We can divide carbohydrates into simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple are thought of as ‘bad’ and complex as ‘good’ due to the chemical make up of the food and how the body deals with them. Complex carbohydrate foods like whole-grains, starchy vegetables and legumes provide energy along with fibre and other essential vitaimins and minerals. On the other hand simple carbohydrate foods like added sugar, white flour and white breads provide energy but little else in terms of nutrients. Complex carbohydrates are made up of longer chain sugar molecules (remember, all carbohydrate gets broken down into sugar in the end.) These longer chains tend to have a lower GI and take a longer time to be broken down, therefore they provide more sustained energy for the body than the simple carbohydrates, helping us feel fuller for longer.
Want to read more on GI? Check out this link here: http://bitewize.co.nz/article/is-sugar-really-the-big-bad-wolf-of-food/
Simple carbs best avoided
Sugar sweetened beverages, including: fizzy drinks, juices and powdered drinks
Cakes/ pastries/ biscuits
Fruit wraps/ leathers
White bread/ pastas/ crackers
Other processed carbohydrate foods
Carbohydrate foods to include every day
Dairy products or alternatives, preferably unsweetened
Wholegrain breads and cereals (think breads with seeds, rolled oats, bran, whole grain barley)
Brown rice and pasta
Some points to note
Be sure to check your nutrition information and the ingredient list on packaged foods. Look for the words ‘whole grain’ and check the fibre content. The higher the fibre, generally the more healthful the food choice. Look for foods that have > 5g fibre per serve. If a food isn’t packaged (fruits and vegetables – it’s a good choice!)
Potatoes are not the enemy! Check out a recently published article here about the humble potato:
Also, the good guys at Plant & Food Research have recently completed a review of the humble potato to ensure the public remain well informed about the health benefits. Read about it here:
If a food claims it is ‘gluten free’ it does not make it a ‘good carb’. Gluten free foods are often highly processed, are lower GI and tend to have additional sugars added. All in all, unless you have coeliac disease you shouldn’t be needing to buy processed gluten free foods.
Be sensible with portion sizes. A fistful of carb at each meal is a good way to estimate roughly how much carb is adequate for the average person. If you are particularly active, of course you may need more.
If you want to learn more, check out how Bitewize Nutrition can help you with a personalised plan.