Carbohydrates are controversial!
This page reveals 5 truths you should know about carbs, and contains lists of both high and low carb foods, and the 2 things that increase the glycemic index.
Carbs make up 40 – 65% of the modern diet.
They include any food with some sort of sugar or starch in it, for example:
- packaged, processed foods like chips, lollies and crackers (unhealthy foods)
- natural whole foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains (healthy whole foods).
Carbs are a main energy source for working muscles, and are the only fuels that your brain can use (1).
Have you ever gone on a high protein low carb diet? Chances are you felt sluggish, tired and foggy-headed – not enough brain-fuel.
It’s obviously important that we at least attain our minimum daily intake – using the right carbs.
The best carbohydrates are unrefined, full of fibre and with a low glycemic index (low GI) (read more below,and here).
Every food that contains carbs is rated using the glycemic index scale. The glycemic index is a measure of how your blood sugar responds to sugar molecules in a food you’ve just eaten.
For most people, best sources of low-GI carbs include fresh vegetables and fruits, which were staples of our ancestors’ diet. These foods are also rich in fibre, water, vitamins and minerals.
Some people need to be careful with carbs. This is especially true if you have a health condition or chornic disease such as:
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Gluten intolerance
- Overweight or obesity.
In these situations, you’ll need to be extra careful about the type of carbs you eat.
People with Crohn’s, IBS or gastric problems may need to avoid FODMAP foods – Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.
These are basically sugars that are poorly absorbed and might ferment, leading to gas and bloating among other symptoms.
They are found in high-fructose/fructan foods (some fruit and veg), dairy products, some legumes, and all sugars, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
Everyone is unique and has different needs. Your health professional can help you work out yours, and assess whether FODMAPs are appropriate for you.
People who are sensitive to gluten or some carbohydrate rich foods, need to make sure they meet their daily needs from other carb sources such as vegetables.
The carb needs of different people varies considerably.
Some people may need more healthy carbohydrates than others. These may include people who:
- Are athletes,
- Have coronary heart disease, or
- Have diabetes.
But be careful; high carb diets may be unsuitable for some people.
The wrong type of carbs, and/or too many of them, may cause health problems or worsen existing health conditions. Contact your health professional for advice about the right about of carbs for you.
People who may need less carbs in their diet may include people who have:
- Carbohydrate intolerance
- Overweight or obesity
- Insulin resistance (e.g. syndrome X, metabolic syndrome, pre diabetes, diabetes)
- Leptin resistance
- Intractable diarrhoea (infants)
- Childhood epilepsy
A list of high carbohydrate foods
High carb foods are those with over of 55% carb content.
Foods with more than 55g per 100g of food (2) include:
+ Indicates foods which have a lot of calories, especially if they are refined, processed or overcooked which lowers their health benefits. These foods may create blood sugar fluctuations and should be used sparingly and in whole (unprocessed) form.
* indicates highly refined foods that should be minimized or avoided.
Rich sources of carbs include grains, sugars, sugar products, tropical fruits and dried fruits.
A list of medium carb foods
Medium carb foods are those with between 15% and 55% carb content.
Foods with 15 – 55g per 100g of food (2) include:
+ Indicates foods which have a lot of calories, especially if they are refined, processed or overcooked which lowers their health benefits. These may create blood sugar fluctuations and should be used sparingly and in whole (unprocessed) form.
* indicates foods that should be minimized or avoided.
A list of low carb foods
This low carbohydrate food list includes foods that contain less than 15% carb content.
Foods with less than 15g per 100g of food (2) include:
Alcohol contains what some people call ‘bad carbohydrates’. It:
• Has a lot of calories for no nutritional benefit,
• Prevents the breakdown of good carbohydrates, and
• Stimulates belly fat production.
Need we say more?
Low carbohydrate diets are becoming popular. People who are following low carb diets generally avoid grains,processed foods, sugary foods and starchy foods.
The 2 things that increase the glycemic index
Experts consider low to medium GI foods are best as they help us to regulate insulin and reduce the risk of overweight and obesity (read more).
High GI foods are best eaten occasionally, and in combination with lower GI foods. This means there is less effect on your blood sugar.
Two things that increase the glycemic index of a food and therefore create an unfavourable increase in blood sugar, include:
- over-processing, e.g. turning whole potatoes into potato chips, or whole oats into quick oats
- over-cooking, e.g. deep frying potato chips, boiling white rice into mush.
Overcooking grains and other starchy foods can break down the food’s carb structure.
So if you’re eating grains, it’s important to choose unprocessed grains, and to cook them the right way.
People tend to eat more grains (~50% of our diet) than our ancestors did (1% of their diet) especially in processed forms.
The best grains are whole and non-processed. They need to be cooked properly to retain their natural enzymes (which help digest the grain) and their vitamin content.
(1) The human brain. http://learn.fi.edu/learn/brain/carbs.html
(2) 2012, Borushek, A. The CalorieKing Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter 2012.