What Are Good Carbohydrates?
What is a Balanced Diet?
In order to have a healthy and balanced diet we should include foods from varied sources. The food we have should be from a number of different food groups which have similar nutritional value. Ideally we should have a small portion from every food group daily, although not of equal size. We need less of some things and more of others, for example, an adult should have no more than 6g of salt (sodium) a day but have 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
The Food Groups
The food groups tend to be divided into categories. These are as follows:
- Carbohydrates for lasting energy
- Proteins for healthy muscle and to help the body repair itself
- Fats for healthy joints, skin and for energy
- Vitamins and Minerals, which help the body to function properly, fight illnesses and promote healthy bones and organs
Including Carbohydrates in Your Diet
Carbohydrates should make up about a third of your diet, as your body will get sustained energy from ‘good carbs’.
What is the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs?
Carbohydrates (or carbs) are foods which come in either forms of sugars, starches or fibres.
Sugary carbs are commonly known as ‘simple carbohydrates’, and are found in fruit (fructose), grape sugar (dextrose or glucose) and table sugar (sucrose). These are generally said to be the ‘bad’ carbs as they raise blood sugar levels quickly if too much is consumed. However, there are refined simple carbohydrates and unrefined simple carbohydrates.
The refined simple carbohydrates come in the form of white sugar or brown sugar which is found in cakes, jams and sweets.
The unrefined simple carbohydrates tend to be in fruit and vegetables and have a low effect on blood sugar levels.
‘Complex carbs’ are found in starchy food and are the ‘healthier’ option if they contain natural starch. They have a low Glycemic Index which means the blood sugar level isn't boosted as highly and so quickly and is steadier for a longer period of time.
Some complex carbs however contain refined starch which the body turns into sugar at a fast pace. These include white bread, white flour, white rice, cakes and biscuits.
Complex carbs with natural starches include whole grains, brown rice, root vegetables, oats, beans and nuts.
Do We Need Carbohydrates in Our Diets?
When the Atkins Diet became popular in 2003, it was thought that by consuming foods containing a high level of carbohydrates was bad. This was because the diet focused on keeping carbohydrate levels down so that the body can turn fat into energy instead. This process is called ‘Ketosis’ .
Although there is debate whether or not this particular diet is bad for us, some people believe carbs can make us fat.
When it comes to calories, carbohydrates actually contain less than fat or alcohol. So if we put on weight it is because we have eaten more than we have burned off.
As there are two types of carb, the refined sugary ones may make us tired quicker due to the quick release in energy. When we ‘come down’ from the sugar rush it is tempting to have more to give us that boost again.
The unrefined carbs are better for our energy levels, mood and insulin levels. Blood sugar levels are more stable and we do not get that same sugary hit.
Having a more stable energy level is better for us, and can ward off hunger pangs for longer.
Fibre in our diet can come from whole grains, fruit and vegetables and is good for our digestive system and can help regulate blood sugar.
Therefore, if we limit carbs from our diet, we are restricting vitamins and minerals from fruit and veg and are making ourselves prone to constipation due to lack of fibre.
Carbohydrates and Diabetes
When we eat sugar or refined carbohydrates which turn to glucose, the pancreas produces insulin so the body can store blood sugar for energy.
For those with Type one, (or ‘juvenile’ ) diabetes, the pancreas doesn't work properly. This means the pancreas either cannot make enough insulin to break down the glucose and store it, or the insulin it does produce cannot do its job.
Type 2 diabetes is more common and tends to develop later on in life. This type means the cells in the body are insulin resistant. The blood sugar levels stay high for a longer period of time, which puts a strain on the production of insulin.
Being diabetic means it is important to regulate sugar levels. Sugar levels which are too high can lead to hyperglycemia and low blood sugar levels lead to hypoglycemia.
Diet is the main way to regulate it, meaning having a balance of unrefined carbohydrates along with a healthy diet will help.
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