Carbs explained!


Carbohydrates don’t have to be confusing: here’s our guide to the good, the bad and the ugly (or in carb-speak, the simple and the complex)
It’s complicated
You’re probably familiar with the phrase complex carbohydrates. These are the good guys – the carbs that our body needs to give us energy. “Good carbs are chemically complex,” explains Professor Berit Johansen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Biology. “They release glucose into the bloodstream over an extended time period.” So where can these good carbs be found? “In general, the colourful carbs, like fruits and vegetables, are more healthy ones,” explains Professor Johansen. “The colourful carbs are also rich in polyphenols, which are important anti-inflammatory compounds, and the fibre content of good carbs is also good for you.”
Good carbs have another advantage – they work wonders when it comes to promoting regular bowel movements, which is vital when it comes to weight loss and a healthy digestive system. “Many good carbs provide insoluble fibre which helps you to excrete any waste from the body,” explains Lee Constantinou, Holland & Barrett’s nutrition and fitness expert. “This is an important process when it comes to getting rid of built-up toxins. If your goal is to lose fat, it will be in your interest to have regular bowel movements, so consuming good carbs will help out here.”
Now for the bad news…
Ever experienced a sudden sugar high? The likelihood is that this was the result of consuming bad, or simple, carbs. Bad carbs are simpler in chemical structure, and contain a higher amount of degradable glucose, which is then released – in larger amounts and over a shorter period of time – into the bloodstream. However, after the initial high, our sugar levels often crash, leaving us feeling tired and lethargic. Bad carbs also quickly convert to fat. “Bad or simple carbs are found in foods such as potatoes, white flour, sugar and white rice,” says Professor Johansen. “The problem with bad carbs is that they are too easily digested, and when such a large amount of energy is not needed, the excess energy is stored on the body as fat.
Gym won’t fix it
A few extra hours at the gym won’t solve the problem, either. “It’s not the case that you can just ‘burn off’ carbs,” explains Lee Constantinou. “Think of the hormonal effect of bad/simple carbs. They give you rapid spikes of insulin, over time causing hormonal problems and making you more insulin resistant. You put yourself at risk of diabetes, which is a common disease in today’s society.”
Hello wholegrain!
Go wholegrain. Wholegrains have been shown to protect against cancer, obesity and diabetes. Choose wholemeal, granary or multi-grain bread, whole oats, shredded wheat, bran flakes, rye bread, oatcakes, brown rice and pasta, bulgar wheat, quinoa, pearl barley and anything with the word whole/wholegrain in front of it!” If you’re prone to overindulging where carbs are concerned, adding low GI (glycemic index) foods can help to prevent sugar highs – and help you resist the wrong type of carbohydrates when that sugar craving kicks in. Finally, remember that when it comes to carbs, an all-or-nothing approach will never work, especially if your aim is weight loss. Through avoiding processed carbohydrates, watching portion size and eating lower GI foods, carbohydrates do not have to be your worst enemy when losing weight but are important in achieving a healthy diet.”