A Guide to Healthy Carbs to Improve Your Diet
Carbs are often labelled as a dietary menace and some people advocate following a low carb diet. But the truth is, carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. You just need to be getting the right sort of carbohydrates from nutritious sources. Here’s what you need to know about carbs, which ones are healthy and where you can find the good ones.
What are Carbs and Which Ones are Good for You?
Carbohydrates are a source of energy. When eaten, the body converts them into glucose which is used to fuel cells such as those of the brain and muscles. This is exactly why we need them – they fuel all of our activities. Foods which are good sources of carbs are also usually full of other important nutrients, such as fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
However, it’s important to note that there are different types of carbs. Simple carbs are made of just one or two sugar molecules, and are digested rapidly, making them a very quick source of energy. These are the ones you’ll find in sweets, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks.
Complex carbs are made up of more molecules strung together in long, complex chains. These are the carbs that should be playing a big role in your diet, and you’ll find them in much healthier foods. They take longer to be broken down into glucose in your blood, which means they provide more prolonged energy and stabilise your blood sugar, rather than spiking it up like simple carbs do.
Incorporating Healthy Carbs Into Your Meals
Starchy foods like bread are an important source of carbs. Choose wholegrain breads for slow-release carbs that help control blood sugar, especially wholemeal, sourdough and mixed-grain breads.
Bread isn’t the only source of nutritious, complex carb-filled wholegrains. Try eating oat meal, quinoa and brown rice. Certain cereals and some types of pasta are also nice wholegrain options – the packaging will usually make it clear.
You may know that beans are a good source of protein, but did you know they’re a great way to get complex carbs too? White, black, kidney and baked beans are all good options, as well as lentils and split peas.
Vegetables probably aren’t the first thing that come to mind when you think of carbohydrates but many of them are a great source of healthy complex carbs. They’re also full of essential vitamins and minerals, while being low in calories thanks to their high water content.
Getting the Right Carbs in Snacks and Desserts
Good news for popcorn lovers: it’s actually a wholegrain, which means it contains complex carbs. It’s also high in fibre and low in calories. Eat popcorn the healthy way by seasoning it with your favourite dried herbs and spices, rather than with salt or sugar.
Fruit is sweet and does contain simple carbs as sugars, but it has a naturally lower sugar content per serving than many other snack choices and contains beneficial dietary fibre. If you’re feeling like something sweet, reach for fruit.
A Few Other Tips
When in doubt about the carb-content of any manufactured foods you buy, simply read the label. The vast majority carry nutrition labels which list the total number of carbs per 100g or per portion, plus the amount of carbohydrate present as sugar. Try to choose lower sugar options. Low sugar products are usually colour coded green on the label while high sugar ones are colour coded red.
Some people try to cut simple carbohydrates out of their diet but this is difficult to do in a healthy way. A number of healthy foods that play an important role in your diet contain some simple carbohydrates, so they can’t be avoided altogether if you want to maintain a good, balanced diet.
The important thing is to choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones where possible, so that the majority of the carbs you eat are the healthier kind. This will keep your energy levels up and your blood sugar steadied, and ensure that you’re getting plenty of other essential nutrients in the process.
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