Carbohydrates have been unfairly demonised by the media over the years and are seen by many as the enemy of weight loss. The truth is we need carbohydrates for energy, fibre and various vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates have a bad reputation because the refined kinds – like croissants, crisps, chips and sweet cereal bars - are easy to grab and overeat on, which can contribute to weight gain. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. So which carbs should be on our plates, and which should try to be reduced?
First, let’s look at complex vs simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates provide a more lasting source of energy than simple carbohydrates because they take longer to digest. This means that complex carbohydrates are a smarter choice compared to simple carbohydrates, as they will help to keep you feeling energised for longer. Not all forms of simple carbohydrates are necessarily unhealthy. Simple carbohydrates are present in fruits and milk, for instance. For these reasons, it’s important to consider the whole food rather than just the type of carbohydrate it contains.
If you want a general rule to help you decide which carbs belong on your plate, start by choosing carbohydrates that are in their most natural state, in other words unrefined and unprocessed. An apple instead of apple juice, boiled sweet potato over potato crisps, and so on.
Another easy swap that you can make is to always try to choose wholegrain or brown varieties over white. For instance, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, wheat and oats are great choices because they are high in fibre, helping you to feel fuller for longer. Fruits and vegetables are also high in fibre, making them a great choice too.
The bottom line? By all means, include carbs in your diet, but try to think about the types of carbohydrates that you’re choosing.
Here are some specific examples of choices you could make:
- Instead of white rice, choose wild rice, brown rice or quinoa.
- Instead of pasta in your vegetable soup, add barley.
- Instead of crisps as a movie snack, have popcorn.
- Instead of flavoured yoghurt, go for greek or natural yoghurt.
- Instead of white bread, choose whole wheat.
- Instead of chips, have oven-roasted sweet potato.
These simple swaps can make the biggest difference, not only to your weight, but also to your energy levels throughout the day!