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Choosing the right carbs for you

Posted on September 16 2020

Choosing the right carbs for you

Carbohydrates fuel your body and are essential to your health, but half the time it can seem you’re left wondering if you made the right choice. Should I have had that last slice of pizza or should I have gone for pasta instead? The idea that carbs are bad can be confusing, but carbs are vitally important for your health. So here are some helpful tips on choosing the right carbs for you.

Fuel to burn

Firstly it’s going to depend on what you’re fuelling. Your body breaks down carbs into sugar for energy, and stores it in your muscles and liver. If you have more stored than you burn off, then your body converts this into fat for long-term energy storage. Starchy carbs that are high in fibre release sugar into the blood slower than sugary foods and simple carbs. So if you’re working on a computer all day your carb choices should be different to those if you’re running a marathon.

Simple vs Complex

Simple carbs that give us short term fuel are found in foods such as milk, white bread, pastries and chocolate. Your body digests these kinds of foods quickly and produces a spike in your blood sugar. Although your body needs some simple carbs and they occur naturally, it’s healthier to cut them to a minimum.

Complex carbs are found in foods such as brown rice, beans, pulses and whole grains. These foods take longer to digest so your body releases the energy gradually over a longer time. The added bonus is complex carbs are higher in fibre and haven’t been stripped off all their good stuff, so they are much better for us.

Toast vs Oats

A good breakfast powers your body and brain through the morning. Toasted white bread is a simple carb and won’t keep you feeling full for very long on it’s own. Oatmeal or porridge is a great choice if you want to resist a mid-morning snack. However, if you do prefer toast for breakfast then try swapping white bread for wholemeal, and avoid sugary toppings such as jam.

Pizza vs Pasta

Pizza and pasta can easily blow a diet out of the water, especially if it’s take away pizza. But if you’re choosing between the two, then opt for the humble pizza slice. The fact that pizzas come in slices means you can think about how much you’re going to eat in advance, rather than piling that bowl high with unknown quantities of pasta. The only challenge is sticking to the plan and resisting that extra slice!

Potato Wedges vs French Fries

You might think they are basically the same thing, but potato wedges are a much better choice than chips or French fries. This is because they don’t absorb as much oil in the cooking process and retain more of their vitamins and minerals. Even sweet potato fries, much lauded as a healthy alternative to French fries, don’t get close to being as good for us as wedges. All forms of potatoes are broken down by the body quickly, but they are loaded with Vitamin C, potassium and fibre. Stick to baking or roasting and keep the skins on for extra fibre too.

Rice vs Noodles

This is a tough one as they are very similar nutritionally, so it comes down to the details. White rice and most noodles are simple carbs and lose many of their vitamins and minerals in the refining process. Try swapping these for brown rice or noodles made from buckwheat flour, as these are complex carbs that happen to be very tasty too.

Popcorn vs Crisps

It seems too good to be true, but popcorn is a whole grain, so has complex carbs and fibre. Try seasoning unsweetened popcorn with your favourite herbs or spices such as paprika for a tasty snack. On the other hand, crisps are simple carbs often containing high levels of saturated fat and salt. Many packaged vegetable crisps which are often seen as a healthy alternative can be just as high in saturated fat.1

What to remember

As with all things in nutrition, getting the right carbs depends on your body and lifestyle. But for most of us it’s pretty simple, keep a lid on the simple carbs, and fuel up on the complex ones. Try swapping refined products for healthier whole foods and grains that are higher in fibre and lower in simple sugars.

References

1 https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/guide-to-healthy-snacks/snack-mistakes-youre-making