Mmmm, are your first thoughts pasta and fresh bread? You’re not alone!
(Aaargh – but those are bad for me aren’t they?)
Carbohydrates are the main source of calories for many people and can be broadly described as one of the three macronutrients along with fats and proteins – we. need. them.!
Humans need fat for health, especially essential fatty acids that the body can’t manufacture.
Protein contains amino acids that act as building blocks (forming cells, repairing tissues and making antibodies).
When it comes to healthy eating, our bodies need a VARIETY of nutrient rich foods; the fuel/energy that keeps us moving and powers all the many physiological processes that take place inside our bodies every day.
The most important carbohydrates are (a) starch (b) sugar and (c) fibre which are found in a wide variety of natural and processed foods.
Like fats and proteins, we need carbohydrates – in varying amounts – to sustain our metabolism and energy levels
The poor carb has become one of the most misunderstood nutrients out there with so many conflicting messages and diets suggesting we need them, we don’t need them, we need some of them etc etc.
So how do we know which carbohydrates are best for us, and how much should we be consuming?
Carbohydrates function as a source of energy for the cells. When you eat carbohydrate foods, the carbs are broken down into smaller compounds, such as glucose, to provide fuel for the cells in your body.Dr Josh Axe
Carbohydrates are built from the combined molecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These are known as simple sugars like glucose, fructose and galactose. By joining together in multiple chains, they reform as complex sugars.
Simple or ‘bad’ carbohydrates
- Contain one or two sugar molecules linked together – monosaccharides
- Are fast releasing into the blood
- Give a sudden burst of energy followed by a slump
- Lack vitamins and minerals needed for the body to use them properly so are best kept to a minimum or, for some people, avoided altogether.
- High glycemic foods
- Examples are sugar, honey, malts, sweets and most refined foods
Complex or ‘healthy’ carbohydrates
- Contain three or more sugar molecules linked together – disaccharides or polysaccharides
- Are slow releasing into the blood
- Provide more sustained energy so preferable
- More fibre (than simple carbs)
- Low glycemic foods
- Examples are whole grains, pulses, vegetables and fresh fruit.
- A type of carbohydrate that keeps our digestive systems healthy
- The indigestible part of plant foods
- Helps with regular bowel movements
- Helps you feel fuller for longer, can improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- Examples of foods containing fibre are vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and legumes
The best carbs to eat, in my experience, are raw fruits and vegetablesPaul Chek
Every day aim to eat
- 3-5 servings of seasonal dark, leafy green and root vegetables – water cress, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans or peppers – raw or lightly cooked.
- 1-3 servings of seasonal fresh fruit – apples, pears, bananas, berries, melon or citrus fruit.
- 1-3 servings of whole grains – quinoa, oats, barley, spelt, rye, brown rice, buckwheat
- 1-3 servings of protein and fats
- AVOID – sugar, foods with added sugar, white or refined foods
Try to cut these out as much as possible, as these processed/ refined foods can be linked to tiredness, lethargy and weight gain.
- WHITE flour – bread, pasta, cakes, cereals
- WHITE sugar – baked goods, breads, biscuits, sweets, soft drinks, energy drinks (also contain artificial sweeteners, colours and preservatives!)
- WHITE table salt – found in most pre-packaged foods
- WHITE pasteurised dairy – milk, yoghurt, cheese, margarine
According to the latest evidence, we should all be aiming to consume around 15-25% of our daily calorie intake at breakfast. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and should be a healthy mix of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauperAdelle Davis, Nutritionist
Grains — most commonly wheat and corn — are consumed by most populations around the world. While some people argue that we shouldn’t eat grains, most health experts agree that grains should be a part of our everyday diet. But choosing whole grains, rather than refined ones, is the most nutritious choice.
- Better source of fibre (compared to other sources of grains)
- Contain important nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium and magnesium
- Will help you to feel fuller for longer and can aid a healthy digestive system.
- Try some of these: quinoa, oats, barley, spelt, rye, brown rice, buckwheat.
Choosing whole grains, rather than refined ones, is the most nutritious choice
Eat your fruit and veg!
You can’t go wrong with eating fresh fruit and vegetables. These are your best low-calorie sources of complex carbohydrates. They are packed with nutrients and fibre and make great snacks throughout the day. In particular the more foods with the colours of the rainbow, that you can eat every day, the better. For example, ORANGE carrots, mangoes and pumpkin contain beta-carotene which helps to boost the immune system.
What about the Glycemic Index?
This is a measure of how quickly food is converted into sugar once you have eaten it. Different carbohydrates – depending on how much sugar and fibre they contain, how processed they are, and what other foods they are paired with, will affect your blood sugar levels in different ways.
Benefits of eating low GI foods
- More stable blood sugar levels across the day (and less spikes)
- Keeps your energy, appetite and mental focus even.
- Reduced risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, and cancer.
Low GI foods
Lettuce, leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, onion (non-starchy veg), nuts, beans, seeds and legumes, unsweetened yoghurts and cheeses (choose organic and raw where possible, wholegrains.
High GI foods
Refined grains, processed cereals, biscuits, cakes, dried fruits, table sugar, honey, starchy root vegetables (white potatoes, winter squash), all fast food and fried food.
More about blood sugar
One of the best podcast interviews on the topic of blood sugar (and one I regularly refer to during client coaching) is
Eat a healthy balance of complex carbs, and some protein and fats, at every meal and snack.
- Eat high quality complex carbohydrates, and fibre (low GI).
- Reduce or avoid simple carbohydrates/ white foods (high GI).
- Eat a healthy balance of complex carbs, and some protein and fats, at every meal and snack.
- Eat regularly – choose smaller main meals and add snacks to keep your blood sugar even.
- Avoid skipping meals (generally slows down the metabolism so the body stores fat).
- Aim to eat 25% of your calories at breakfast/ avoid snacks for 2 hours before bed.
- Follow a regular program of exercise.
- Stay hydrated – drink your daily water target.
- Be in bed and lights out by 10.30pm.
- How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy – Paul Chek
- Eating Well for Optimum Health – Dr Andrew Weil