Carbohydrates: Good and bad quality carbs

Do carbs make you fat?

Nope. They don’t. Unless you mean too many carbs, because in that case, yes, too many carbs can make you fat. But only in the same way that too much of anything (protein, fat etc) can make you fat. Do you know why? Because it’s too much! Too much of anything is by definition, too much. So stop stressing about them.

What are carbs?

Carbs are one of the 3 main food groups (carbs, proteins and fats). You get them from eating plant based foods and I want you to know about the 3 main types of carbohydrate:

  • Simple Sugars – These are the simplest, most basic building blocks of carbohydrates.
  • Starches or Complex Carbs – These are long chains of simple sugars linked together.
  • Fibre – These are the most complex form of carbohydrate. They are very long, branched, interlinking chains of sugars.

Every gram of pure carbohydrate supplies our body with 4 calories.

Did you notice that all the above types of carbs are made up of various length chains of sugar?

What do carbohydrates do?

Carbohydrates are our body's preferred source of energy. When we eat carbohydrates, our gut breaks them down into individual sugar molecules. These then travel around our body in our blood to be used for either energy or stored for later use.

Because simple sugars are simple molecules, our digestive system can deal with them very quickly. Simple sugars in our diet rush immediately from our gut into our blood. This sudden sugar rush is not ideal for our body and can cause it and its hormones to overreact. Like rush hour traffic leading to road chaos. Long term over consumption of simple sugars can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

The more complex carbohydrates are bigger, more complex molecules, it takes longer to digest and trickle to our blood (because it takes time for them to be broken down first). This slower, more controlled release into our blood is much better for our body. It gives us a steady, constant supply of energy, like the roads not at rush hour leading to a quick, pleasant journey.

Fibre is so complex and tangled up, our body can’t break it down at all. It simply passes through our gut without releasing any energy. But, because it is so complex, it interferes with the release of simple sugars, slowing down their passage to our blood. It also acts as a bulking agent to aid digestion. These are just some of the many benefits of having plenty of fibre in your diet.

Where do you get carbohydrates from?

The healthiest sources of high quality complex carbohydrates are from:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains (eg, wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, wholegrain cereals).

But we get too much low quality simple, refined carbohydrates from processed foods such as:

  • Fast foods and takeaways
  • White flour products (eg white bread)
  • White rice and white pasta.
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Cakes, sweets, chocolate
  • Biscuits and pastries.

Conclusions.

  • Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet and we shouldn’t avoid them.
  • We should all be eating mostly “natural” plant based foods (foods straight from the farm) such as fruit, veg and whole grains, made up of complex carbohydrates.
  • We should severely restrict highly processed, man-made foods such as crisps, cakes, sweets, pastries, biscuits, white bread, white pasta etc, made up of simple carbohydrates.
  • Processing foods (turning them from natural foods into artificially sweetened, coloured, flavoured and preserved products) usually means removing the “good” complex carbohydrates, replacing them with “bad” simple carbohydrates.

Think of carbs as being of higher and lower quality. Wherever possible, choose higher quality carbs (complex carbs and fibre) over low quality, simple sugars.

Think quality over quantity!

Homework

Now take a look at your food diary from last week. Identify the meals where you either:

  • Had too much low quality carbs
  • Not enough high quality carbs

And work out how can improve on that for next week. Try asking yourself:

Can I swap this for a higher quality, less processed version?

On a scale of 1-10, decide how confident you are that you can incorporate this new habit over the next week or 2. If it is 7 or below, either change to a different habit, or make this habit easier.

Then use the following document to help you change your habit for the better over the next week or 2.

You can either:

  • Download and print it out for free.
  • Hire me to coach you through it and you will get online versions we can work through together by clicking here.
Homework - Healthy eating habits PDF.pdf