First, let’s get one thing straight. Carbs are not the enemy.
We need carbohydrates in our diet for so many reasons. They provide us with the fuel we need to live our lives – to work, exercise and have fun. They also contain the fibre we need to help maintain healthy digestion and support weight management.
But before we get carried away and switch to a diet entirely based on pasta… it’s important to remember that not all carbs are created equal. Too much of the wrong sort can lead to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
So, how do you sort the good carbs from the not so good?… In this post, we’ll look at the main types of carbohydrates, the effect they have on our bodies & the foods they can be found in.
What are the different types of carbs?
Carbohydrates can be divided into two categories: simple and complex.
These are large compounds that take a good amount of time to be broken down in our bodies – they slow down digestion and prevent spikes in our blood glucose level. These carbohydrates are also a good source of fibre, so they can help us to feel fuller for longer, aiding weight management and lowering our risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sources of complex carbohydrates include whole foods such as:
- Whole grains
- Starchy vegetables.
These are smaller molecules that are broken down quickly in our bodies. They provide a quick boost of energy, which doesn’t last long.
Types of simple carbohydrates include:
A quick note on fruit: Fruit contains fructose, but it’s also a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals that our body needs.
Due to its fibre content, fruit doesn’t cause such a sharp spike in blood glucose levels.
◽️ Simple carbs can occur naturally, as in the case of fruit, or they can occur as a result of processing. For this reason, they are also sometimes referred to as refined carbohydrates. And these are the ones that have given carbs such a bad reputation, as they contain little nutritional value and, when eaten in large quantities, can lead to sugar addiction.
◽️ Complex Carbohydrates like brown rice, oats and whole wheat contain three main parts: the bran, endosperm and germ. Most of the nutritional value is found in the bran and the germ – things like vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
When grains are refined (think: white pasta, white bread, white flour etc) the bran and the germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm. This strips the grain of most of the good stuff, leaving only simple carbohydrates and a little protein. This is why so many baked goods and treats made using white flour can cause a spike in our blood glucose level, causing us to come back for more and over-eat.
So, should I cut out carbs to lose weight?
Short answer, no. This is not a good idea. In fact, it is generally recommended that around 45 – 65% of our total daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates.
Weight gain happens when we consume an excess of calories – regardless of the kind of food those calories came from. And 1 gram of carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories – exactly the same as protein! The trick is to make sure that the majority of the carbs you are consuming are the ‘good’ complex kind that come from whole foods and will keep you fuller for longer. Refined grains like white flour and sugar should be limited.
So rather than attempting to eliminate carbs from your diet altogether, the best thing is to work on watching your portion sizes and balancing your plate with a healthy mix of protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. Remember – balance is key.
When it comes to exploring carbohydrates, I always advise my clients to listen to their bodies first. Everyone’s tastes and lifestyles are different, and there is no point in forcing yourself to eat something you don’t enjoy or searching for something that isn’t readily available where you live.
The best thing is to explore your options to find what works for you, always keeping in mind what you now know about the difference between healthy carbs and not so healthy ones.
Bonus: Get to Know Your Grains
As we’ve seen, whole grains are an excellent (often gluten-free!) source of complex carbohydrates, so it’s a good idea to make friends with as many different kinds as you can.
Here is a list of nutritious grains to try (GF indicates that they are gluten-free!)
- Amaranth GF
- Brown Rice GF
- Buckwheat GF
- Cornmeal GF
- Millet GF
- Oats (you can find gluten free options)
- Quinoa GF
- Rye berries
- Wheat berries
- Wild Rice GF
How to Cook Grains
Note: One cup of grains is equal to around 2 – 4 servings. This is great as it means that you can cook once and eat twice – the leftovers from your dinner will form the perfect starting point for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Rinse the grains in cold water (optional: you can soak the grains for one to eight hours to soften. This process can allow you to digest them easier and reduce phytic acid. After you soak them, make sure to drain them well.)
- Add grains to water and boil them
- Add a pinch of salt to help the cooking process
- Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for the time indicated on the packet
- Turn off the heat and cover for 5 minutes.
- Enjoy! Make sure to chew well and eat mindfully.
The blog soupdellamamma.com is a great online resource for recipe ideas using grains. Or you can book a 1:1 nutrition consultation to talk more about your diet and lifestyle and create the perfect balanced meal solutions for you.
“Food is mood – your food choices reflect who you are and how you feel”