What Is The Difference Between Good And Bad Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the body and vital for maintaining a state of good health. Over the years, certain carbs have acquired the status of either being “good” or “bad” for us. Whether or not a food group works for you is dependent on your unique lifestyle and composition, so rather than being black and white about what’s good and bad, here we go through how carbs work and how they can help you to function at your best.
 

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates, whether healthy or unhealthy, can be more accurately described as complex or simple. Both kinds of carbs can either be processed or come in a whole form.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs are identified as containing at least three glucose molecules. They tend to be high in fibre and starch, which means that they take longer to digest. They also contain important vitamins, minerals, prebiotics and antioxidants.

Because digestion of complex carbs happens slowly, the energy that is released in to the blood stream happens over a longer period of time, which helps to regulate appetite and blood sugars, keeping you feeling fuller and more energised for longer.

Whole grains, legumes, beans and vegetables are all excellent sources of complex carbs.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbs by comparison contain only one or two glucose molecules. These sugars can be easily digested and quickly used as energy or stored as fat depending on your levels of activity. Some of these sugars occur naturally, such as in fruits and milk, while others are the refined sugars added to sweets, baking, fizzy drinks and the like.
 
While some of the sources provide nutrients - fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fibre, vitamins and minerals which are vital for a healthy body - processed sources like snack foods and sugary foods are lacking in these essential nutrients.

Refined carbs like white bread and white pasta usually start out as whole grains (complex carbohydrates) but during processing are stripped of their fibre, vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content, meaning that they end up with little nutritional value.

Why Healthy Carbs Are Important

Removing all carbs from your diet can take a lot of getting used to. It can leave you feeling fatigued, impair physical performance and even cause deficiencies in certain nutrients. There are certainly many people who’s unique body composition and lifestyle means that they actively benefit from a reduction in their carb intake, but as with most things in life there is no one size fits all solution.

While there are well-established benefits to reducing your intake of refined carbs from processed foods, most people benefit from keeping natural carb sources in their diet, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Clearly some carbs are healthier than others, and a healthy diet must achieve a balance between the two.

Examples of Healthy And Not So Healthy Carbohydrates

Consuming complex carbohydrates over refined carbs means you get more out of the foods that you are eating nutritionally speaking. Choosing roasted kumara over kumara chips, brown rice over white rice, or an apple over a glass of apple juice will give your body more fibre and nutrients for the same amount of food.

Healthy Carb Choices

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Whole fruits
  • Whole grains

During the process of refining carbohydrates, many nutrients are stripped away. Often sugar, salt and preservatives are then added for the purposes of enhancing certain flavours and prolonging shelf life.

Certain foods like breads and cereals are fortified by adding in vitamins and minerals, but most additives do very little to benefit our health. It is always best to consume foods that naturally contain nutrients as opposed to foods that have had them added in. Best practise is to look for foods with the shortest ingredient list possible, without any additives or preservatives.

Not So Healthy Carb Choices

  • Processed snacks
  • Sugary drinks
  • Juices
  • Breads and baked goods with white flour

What Is So Important About Fibre?

Fibre mostly comes from complex carbohydrates. The NZ Nutrition Foundation states that the daily recommendation of fibre is 25g for women and 30g for men. A diet rich in fibre has been shown to help maintaining a healthy weight, improve digestion and reduce the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes.

There are two types of fibre that our body requires to stay healthy – soluble and insoluble.

Soluble Fibre

Soluble fibre absorbs water which helps to ease digestion and elimination. It also binds to cholesterol and sugar, slowing their release in to the bloodstream. Soluble fibre also acts as a prebiotic, which helps to feed the good gut bacteria, reduce inflammation and boost immunity.

Some great sources of soluble fibre:

  • Oats
  • Legumes – peas, beans, lentils
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables – especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, potato and kumara
  • Nuts and seeds

Insoluble Fibre

Insoluble fibre isn’t broken down during the digestive process nor absorbed in to the bloodstream. It bulks out your stool, helping elimination, reducing constipation and protecting against issues with the colon.

Great sources of insoluble fibre:

  • Wholemeal breads
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Corn
  • Seeds
  • Fruits and Vegetables

Low Carb Diets

Carbs can be a confusing topic for many people. Some feel that they’re essential, others avoid them at all costs. You do need some carbohydrates to fuel vital processes within the body. What is most important is the type of carbohydrates that you are consuming – prioritising complex over simple, high quality whole foods over processed foods - more so than the overall quantity.

Low carb diets can be effective for initial weight loss but are not necessarily the best option for everyone, as your body composition and lifestyle plays a big role in the quantity of carbohydrates that you might require.

For example, eating low carb meals might be a great approach for older and overweight adults to lose more weight, whereas someone with a healthy weight and active lifestyle might require a larger amount of carbs in their diet to ensure they receive enough energy.

At SwoleFoods we have designed three meal ranges that each have unique compositions of protein, carbohydrates and fats to ensure that you are getting the right amount of energy in the right form to suit your goals.

The carbohydrates that we select for our meals are full of nutrients, minimally processed and low in sugars so your body gets everything that it needs to function and perform efficiently.