The Good and the Bad when it comes to Carbohydrates:

Do carbohydrates belong in a healthy diet?

There is a lot of hype at the moment about what a healthy diet should consist of.  We have been told in the past to avoid unhealthy fats, and now we are being told to avoid sugar and carbohydrates at all cost.  One has to remember, that there is no such thing as one suitable diet for all as we all have different requirements based on our age, level of activity, medical conditions, and individual preferences.  The best approach to healthy eating for the average healthy, active person is to have a variety of foods in moderation.  Most foods can contribute to your health in a positive way, provided they are eaten in modest amounts. Variety is also key. Different foods offer different nutritional benefits and so a wide variety of wholesome foods should be included in your day-to-day eating. It is important to differentiate between the good wholegrain, high fibre carbohydrates; and the refined, processed, low-fibre carbohydrates.

THE GOOD CARBOHYDRATES:

Wholegrain and high fibre carbohydrates are a good source of energy for our muscles and brain.  Fibre is important for digestive health and may reduce the risk of colon cancer.  Fibre can stabilise the sugar levels and control blood cholesterol levels. Eating fibre can also make you feel fuller for longer, curb your appetite and thereby help with weight-control.  A few examples of healthy wholegrain carbohydrates include brown rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes with the skin, sweetcorn, quinoa, lentils, oats and butterbeans. Fruit, which mainly contains the natural sugar, fructose, is also rich in fibre and antioxidant nutrients, and should also be consumed in moderate amounts daily. 

THE BAD CARBOHYDRATES:

Here we refer to refined sugars, added sugars or refined white grains.  For example cane sugar, corn syrup, cooldrinks, white breads, white pasta, and confectionary. These foods are high in calories and supply the body with a rapid source of energy, which is great if you are competing in endurance sports, but not so great if you are watching your weight.  Many people are unaware as to how much refined sugar they are consuming and this is resulting in a high calorie intake which fuelling the obesity epidemic. Added sugars, also known as caloric sweeteners, are sugars and syrups that are added to foods at the table or during processing or preparation (such as high fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages and baked products). These sugars supply calories but few or no nutrients.  People are very aware of low-fat diets and because of that have been eating more fat-free and low-fat products without taking note of the added sugars contained in these products. Unfortunately their calorie intake has exceeded their output , resulting in weight gain. Sugary carbohydrates can also cause insulin spikes which can lead to further cravings for sugary foods and more calories!

The average person should get no more than 6% to 10% of our total calories from added sugar — that’s about nine teaspoons a day for most of us.

To conclude, there is no need to demonise all carbohydrates.  It is important that the average healthy person includes these wholegrain, high fibre foods in their daily diets.  The intake of refined, sugary foods should, however, be limited in order to prevent obesity.

So, enjoy a fistful of sweet potato with your dinner tonight, but please hold back on the sweetened cooldrink and have a glass of water instead!

Much love, Sarah