Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for our bodies as the digestive system transforms them into glucose (i.e. blood sugar). Any excess glucose is then stored in our liver and muscles for when it is needed. There are four types of carbohydrates – refined, unrefined, simple and complex.
The difference between refined and unrefined carbohydrates is down to how the grain is processed. Refined carbs such as white bread, crisps, breakfast cereals and white rice are developed through a process that involves removing the key nutrients as well as the germ, bran and endosperm which is found in the wheat kernel. Consumption of these foods can give you a spike in energy but also leave you feeling fatigued. They elevate our blood sugar causing our bodies to produce more insulin.
An unrefined carbohydrate is when the wheat kernel is left whole – e.g. whole grain foods. These foods contain more of their natural nutrients. For example, legumes, fruits and uncooked vegetables are all top sources of unrefined carbohydrates – these are the ones we should be eating!
Simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides and disaccharides i.e. they have a single or double sugar molecule. They include glucose, fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose. These carbohydrates provide fast energy as they are easily digested and absorbed. They are found naturally in fruit, milk and table sugar.
Complex carbs are polysaccharides, also known as starches, which include unrefined, whole grains and fibre-rich root vegetables. As complex carbs contain a lot of fibre, it takes longer for our bodies to digest them meaning glucose is released more slowly into the bloodstream. This leaves us feeling fuller for longer, having normal insulin levels and therefore less breakouts.
Quality over Quantity
Should you cut carbohydrates out completely? Should you only consume carbohydrates before 2pm?
The answer is NO. Too often I have witnessed individuals who are sick, lethargic and depressed from following a low carbohydrate diet, i.e. a keto diet, which forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Restricting or removing carbohydrates from your diet can cause a build-up of ketones. This can result in Ketosis which leads to a feeling of nausea, fatigue and can bring on severe migraines.
There has always been a huge backlash against this essential macronutrient, yet most Registered Nutritionists, like myself, and Dietitians would not recommend cutting out carbohydrates. The most important thing to keep in mind is to eat carbohydrates from unrefined and unprocessed foods rather than following a strict diet counting or limiting them. For example, whole wheat bread, rye, barley, quinoa are better dietary choices than highly refined carbs such as French fries or white bread. And remember – fruit and vegetables are carbohydrates and are brimming in essential nutrients!
Dietary fibre is found only in plant foods and has a huge presence in grains, seeds, legumes, vegetables and fruit. Fibre has been linked to keeping our digestive system healthy, stabilising the body’s blood sugar levels, removing excess hormones and ‘bad’ cholesterol, deactivating cancer-causing substances and keeping us feeling full for longer. However, most of us are consuming less than half the recommended daily intake of 30g. Eating more fibre every day is essential for the health of our skin and body and there is only one way to do just that – to eat more plant-based foods!
Your Daily Intake
50-65% of what you consume should be part of the ‘quality’ carbohydrate family i.e. grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. To give you an example of what 10-a day looks like, see below.
2x Kiwis, 1x Apple, 1x Banana, 1x Tomato, 2x Broccoli Spears, 1x Celery Stick, 2x Handfuls of Spinach, 1x Carrot and 3x Tbsp Peas
I hope this helps to eradicate any confusion around carbohydrates. If there are any subjects that you would like me to cover then please do get in touch!