In our previous post we look at the different types of fat and gave advice on what’s good and what’s bad. On this week’s agenda are carbohydrates.
What are they?
Carbohydrates, or ‘carbs’, are an important source of energy hence why they are classed as a macronutrient along with fat and protein. Whenever we eat or drink, all of the carbohydrates in the food, or drink, are converted into glucose (sugar). Glucose provides energy for all of the body’s cells, such as in the brain and muscles.
What else happens to glucose in the body?
Glucose affects the blood – after we consume carbohydrates, blood glucose (sugar) levels rise. This triggers the production of insulin, a substance which helps the body’s cells absorb glucose from the blood. After absorption, insulin levels are reduced and the blood glucose level goes back to normal. Glucose that isn’t used is converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles. Any excess glucose is converted to fat – energy stored for the long-term.
Types of carbohydrates
1. Simple carbohydrates
These are made up of simple sugars called monosaccharides and disaccharides – a bit of a mouthful we know! They are found in foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk and after consumption they cause a sharp rise in blood glucose levels, with a fall to match. Falling blood glucose levels can cause you to get hungrier faster and these sudden shifts can also affect your mood and leave you feeling tired.
Other sources of simple carbohydrates include:
- white (table) sugar
- soft drinks
- fruit juice
Sugar has been making a lot of headlines recently especially because of the sugar tax debate that’s on everyone’s lips. There’s so much to cover it really deserves it’s own article, which we’ll be publishing next week.
2. Complex carbohydrates
These are also known as polysaccharides and are found in starchy food – mainly cereals and potatoes. They are made up of a more complex molecular structure which means they are harder to break down in the digestive system. As they take longer to digest, they release energy gradually into the bloodstream, sustaining energy levels over a period of time. Fluctuations in blood glucose levels aren’t so rapid, making complex carbohydrates the better option as they don’t have the same negative effects as simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates can also be found in:
- wholemeal bread
- wholegrain pasta
- brown rice
- pulses (beans and lentils)
As part of a healthy balanced diet, an adult’s reference intake for total carbohydrates in a day is 260g, approximately 50% of the total energy/calories we should consume.
Studies have shown that this can be a good way to lose weight initially if you are overweight or obese. Cutting out the carbs can lower your overall calorie intake and you may also lose weight due to water loss – many foods that contain carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and potatoes have a lot of water content so by reducing your intake of these you’ll lower your water intake too.
It’s important to not eliminate carbs completely as carbohydrate-rich foods tend to have other important nutrients and B vitamins which help break down and release energy from food. Removing carbs from your diet may lead to negative effects such as:
- feeling weak and tired
- bad breath
Including healthier carbs in your diet
- Make the change to brown wholemeal or granary bread. Some loaves come with a mixture of seeds for added crunch and texture. Watch out for sesame seeds if you have an allergy.
- Try sweet potato chips instead of regular fries. Sweet potatoes are rich in fibre and vitamin A which helps the immune system and maintains healthy skin.
- Opt for brown rice over white rice.
- Sucker for crisps? Try looking for products made from whole grain or corn. We’ve even seen some made using lentil flour! These are all healthier types of carbs and you may even find that these crisps tend to be lower in fat and saturated fat.
- If you enjoy a bowl of porridge oats in the morning to get you on track for the day, have traditional rolled oats instead of the quick cook ‘instant’ variety. Instant oats go through a lot more in the manufacturing process meaning they are easily digested and affect blood glucose levels at a quicker rate.
Next in the series: Sugar
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