After my last post on carbs some of you have been asking me about the different types. The short answer is yes there are different types (sorry it’s never simple) and that there are good ones and bad ones.
There are 3 types of carbohydrate; starch, fibre and sugar (yes sugar is a carbohydrate !). These can then be classified as simple or complex carbohydrates. Sugars are simple carbohydrates which means they are made up of one or two sugar units joined together. You can find sugars naturally in food such as fruit and milk. Fibre and starch are complex carbohydrates which means they are made up of lots of sugar units joined together. In your body starch and sugar are broken down into single units and absorbed into your blood (fibre is not broken down in the body or absorbed).
Another way to classify carbohydrates is on the glycemic index. A high value (100 is the highest) means it causes our blood sugar to rise very quickly, whereas a low value (anything below about 50) means there is a more gradual rise over a longer period. There are lots of factors that decide whether a food is high or low GI, such as the amount of starch, protein, fat and fibre also in the food (foods with no carbohydrate have no GI value). Low GI foods are broken down slowly, giving you a consistent release of energy over a longer period (leaving you feeling fuller for longer).
However just because a food is high GI does not mean you should always avoid it. If you combine carbohydrate with protein this lowers the GI of the meal. For example baked potatoes have a high GI, but if you eat them with tuna, then it has a low GI.
The last (and most important) thing to know about carbohydrates is how refined they are. When carbohydrates are processed a lot of the nutrients (like fibre, vitamins and minerals) are removed. Examples of this are white bread and white flour. This means the GI of the carbohydrate increases and a lot of the other great nutrients are taken out. For example wholewheat contains B Vitamins and other minerals. White flour has had all these vitamins and minerals removed.
All the points about carbohydrates are important. If you are unsure which to choose the best carbohydrates for you to eat are unprocessed, natural foods. Fruits, vegetables and wholegrains are the best sources. Examples of these are sweet potatoes, beans and lentils. Wholegrain pasta, rye bread and brown rice are examples of carbohydrates that have not had much processing and are good choices as well. Start swapping processed carbohydrates with more natural foods and you will start seeing a difference.
I understand this is complicated and I have tried to explain a lot in one article. So if you have any questions or comments then please ask or share them here.