Last updated on September 5th, 2018
Unless you are following a specific diet plan, such as a high-protein diet, carbohydrate is likely to be your body’s main source of fuel.
It’s also the body’s preferred source of fuel and The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calorie intake should come from carbs.
The problem is, not all carbs are created equal. There are good carbs and bad carbs and choosing the wrong type can have a detrimental effect on your weight.
Good Carbs V Bad Carbs
In the past, people used to talk about simple and complex carbohydrates.
These days, simple carbohydrate is often referred to as “bad carbs” and complex carbohydrate is deemed to be “good carbs”.
However, although eating too much simple carbohydrate is not a recipe for a healthy waistline, use of the word “bad” is probably a little over-the-top because many fruits contain simple carbohydrate and combine it with vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.
So you should not feel the need to avoid all foods that contain simple carbohydrate. It’s just a case of making sensible choices.
Both types of carbohydrate provide the body with glucose.
The body needs glucose for energy and the amount of energy food provides is measured in calories.
Before going any further, it’s important to note the difference between simple carbohydrate and complex carbohydrate is not the amount of calories each type provides, but the speed at which the calories are delivered to the body.
Table sugar is a simple carbohydrate. The body finds it quick and easy to digest.
Foods and drinks that contain sugar are good for delivering a quick burst of energy, but the duration is short-lived and if your body does not need the energy it’s been given it will store the extra calories as fat.
Foods that provide simple carbohydrate include:
- White bread
- Soft drinks
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Chocolate spreads
Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of avoiding the obvious offenders, simple sugars are added to many different types of food including canned vegetables, yogurt, and breakfast cereals.
And here’s a shocker: granola can be particularly bad. Although it would be a good breakfast choice if it contained just the expected oats, nuts, and seeds, a cup of granola typically provides 12-13g of sugar.
Porridge and wheat biscuits, such as Weetabix, are much healthier options.
The body finds it more difficult to digest complex carbohydrate, so the calories it contains are released more slowly.
This makes foods that provide simple carbohydrate very good for sustaining energy levels for longer periods of time. However, there are two different types of complex carbohydrate—starch and fiber.
For this reason, some people often state there are three types of carbohydrate (sugar, starch, and fiber), but this is a fact that has little bearing in an article such as this and many of the foods that provide complex carbohydrate contain starch and fiber.
Foods that provide complex carbohydrate include:
- Rolled oats
- Wholemeal bread
- Wholemeal pasta
- Bran flakes and similar products
- Beans and pulses
- Cabbage and other leafy vegetables
A Closer Look at Carb-Providing Foods
Although some foods may be higher in one type of carb than the other, many foods contain both.
Fruit is probably the best example because pears, apples, oranges and other fruits provide fructose and glucose (simple sugars) and also contain dietary fiber.
They also offer nutritional value in other areas and the Eat Well Guide produced by Public Health England suggests eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
However, the guide also states starch-rich foods like oats and wholemeal products should account for around a third of the body’s nutritional intake.
That’s good advice because, apart from providing a stable supply of energy, foods of this nature also improve intestinal health and may help lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).
The Importance of Checking Food Labels
Manufacturers in the food industry often try to hide the fact their products contain added sugar so, in the past, many foods bore labels that stated they contained corn syrup, corn sweetener, maltose, malt syrup, honey, sucrose, dextrose or some other addition likely to deliver a rapid blast of simple carbohydrate energy but not clearly identified as a sugar.
Fortunately, people living in the US now find it easier to know what they are eating because a new regulation brought in by the FDA in July 2018 states nutrition labels must clearly state how much sugar has been added to products.
However, no matter what country you may be living in, it’s always advisable to scrutinize the labels when buying pre-packed food products and avoid the ones that are high in sugar or other similar sweeteners.
Better still, try to buy fresh food. That way you can be sure there are no added sugars, preservatives, colourants, or other unnatural additives.
Carbohydrate is a necessary and important component of any healthy diet and both simple and complex carbs are needed. I
t’s just a case of putting some thought into which options you choose and following sensible diet guidelines such as those laid out by Public Health Services.
So next time you feel your energy levels are low, instead of reaching for a can of Red Bull or going in seek of a Mars Bar, why not take a closer look at your diet and see if you are giving your body enough fruit, vegetables, and high fiber food.