There is so much more to carbohydrates than their bad reputation. In fact, think of them as your body’s personal power source. The right carbs fuel your body and brain and supply an abundance of nutrients too.
Too many times we equate carbs with the likes of sweets, donuts and chocolates, but they are so much more than that, says clinical dietician Bernice Venter.
Carbs are found in lots of the foods we eat, both healthy and the not-so-good foods. “People think carbohydrates are bad for you and that they are ‘poisonous’, which is not the case at all,” Venter says candidly.
Carbohydrates can be either simple, refined and sugary or they can be complex and healthy, she goes on to explain. “Simple carbohydrates include all the yummy, processed foods, cakes, sweets, chocolates. These foods have been stripped of all their fibre.”
Refined carbs are found in foods that have been heavily processed to remove many of the other nutrients they normally carry. These include white flour, added sugars and sweeteners.
“Typically, these simple, refined carbs are easily processed by the body, and will often cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels.”
Sugars, especially processed ones, are a great example of refined carbs. A few other common examples of refined carbs include:
- Refined grains
- White bread
- White pasta
- Artificial sweeteners
- Pizza dough
- Many breakfast cereals
Why are complex carbs good for you?
But complex carbs are a different matter. To function optimally, your body needs protein, fats and carbohydrates. What you can do, is make the right choices around the kinds of carbs you put into your body, says Venter.
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans are healthy, natural sources of carbohydrates. These foods provide not only the carbs your body needs, but an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fibre. “Seeded breads, brans, oats and brown rice give us that sustained energy. They will also prevent insulin resistance which, typically, people see when they have more fat around their tummy and they’re struggling to lose that weight.”
“Complex carbs contain fibre, which gives you that long and sustained energy feeling.”
“They also help with gut health and help produce serotonin, which is a ‘happy hormone’ and makes us feel good. Complex carbs are also good for your immunity – 70% of your immune system lies in your gut. So, you are assisting other parts of your body.”
Complex carbs to add to your diet:
It may be possible to keep some complex carbs as a part of a healthy diet, but eliminating the empty calories of simple carbohydrates can be a huge step towards a more nutritious, healthy diet.
When making choices for bread: Try to include more brown breads, wholewheat bread, seeded loaves and Low GI breads.
When making choices for cereals: Try oats.
When making choices for other starches: Try brown rice, lentils, chickpeas, broad beans, or black beans. Those lentils, chickpeas and beans are great sources of fibre and great sources of protein that you can add to any meal.
For comfort meals: Add beans to samp for a healthier nutrient-dense comfort starch. “That’s going to help you feel a bit fuller for longer.”
Should you ever consider a low-carb diet, Venter says, “Low-carb diets exclude things like fruits and vegetables like your sweet potatoes, butternuts and potatoes, which contain nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants support your liver, which is almost like a fat factory. You need a good, functioning liver to break down all those fats.”
The message? Don’t automatically consider all carbohydrates to be the enemy.