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The Truth About Carbohydrates - Some Key Points

Carbohydrates

There was a time when everyone was told to eat plenty of bread, rice and potatoes and to worry more about fat than sugar. But now that we're in an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, nutrition experts are saying you can have too much of a good thing, and we need to be more careful about the type and amount of carbs we eat.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (carbs) are one of the four nutrients in food that provide kilojoules, or energy, to fuel the body. Carbs can be divided into two main groups: sugars and starches. In fact, starches are made up of lots of sugar molecules stuck together, and so when digested, both starches and sugars produce sugar in the body. Sugar produced by eating carbs is sent around the body in the blood and can be measured by a blood sugar level.

What do carbs do?

Carbs are the body's primary fuel, a bit like petrol in a car. Carbs give us energy to work our heart, lungs, kidneys, brain and muscles. Carbs are particularly important to fuel the brain, helping us to think clearly and to balance our mood, as well as to power muscles during exercise.

Are carbs fattening?

Any food can be fattening if you overeat. It doesn't seem to matter a whole lot whether your food is high in fat or carbs, but how much you eat in total (ie. kilojoules). 

Pure carbs have the same number of kilojoules per gram as pure protein, but around half the kilojoules of pure fat.

Watching the type of carbs: the glycemic index (GI)

You can't talk about carbs without mentioning the glycemic index (GI). The GI is a way of comparing different carbs by ranking their effect on blood sugar levels. High GI carbs cause a rapid rise and decline in blood sugars, whereas low GI carbs have a more gradual and longer lasting effect. Moderate GI carbs are somewhere in the middle. The benefits of low GI foods are for people with diabetes who struggle to keep their blood sugar and insulin levels down at a normal level, however including more low GI foods has also been shown to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. A low GI diet might also help with weight control as low GI foods tend to be more satisfying.

Choosing lower GI carbs

Lowering the GI of your diet is as simple as swapping a high GI food for a lower GI alternative and it can taste just as good.

Higher GI food

  1. Mash potato
  2. Jasmine rice
  3. White bread
  4. Orange-flavoured soft drink
  5. Jelly beans
  6. Rice pasta
  7. Boiled potato
  8. Rice cracker

Lower GI alternative

  1. Sweet potato
  2. Basmati rice
  3. Multi-grain bread
  4. Orange juice, unsweetened
  5. Dried apricots
  6. Regular spaghetti
  7. 4 bean mix
  8. Rye crispbread

Good carbs and bad carbs

The main thing to think about when choosing healthier carbs is how nutritious is the food? Sugary foods such as lollies and soft drinks have often been called 'empty kilojoule' foods because they don't offer much else besides pure energy, whereas sugar-containing foods, such as fruit and milk, and starchy foods like bread and pasta - especially wholegrain types - offer other nutrients as well, such as protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For a healthy diet, choose the good carbs with more nutritional value.

What does insulin do?

Insulin is a hormone that has many functions in the body, but a major one is to move sugar from the blood into every cell in the body to do its work, and to store the energy for later use. It's often called the storage hormone for this reason. It's thought that having too much insulin in the body causes weight gain because the body is in 'storage mode'.

What about diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels become too high because insulin doesn't work properly (type 2), or the body stops making insulin (type 1). Type 2 diabetes is the most common and often involves too much insulin in the body as it struggles to pump out more insulin to make up for its lack of effect.

Portion size matters!

Just because a food has a low GI, it doesn't mean you can eat as much as you like. Equally, high GI foods don't have to be off-limits, just go easy and enjoy in moderation. Overeating any food can cause weight gain, and overeating any carbs over the long term can disrupt your body's metabolic balance.

As a general rule natural is aways better. If it had to be "made" then is not the best choice

Make the right choice next time your in the supermarket.


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