Are you confused about whether carbs are good for you or bad for you? With so many confusing messages in the media, it seems like a lot of people are. Let me explain why this topic can be confusing and what to look for.
Carbohydrates in themselves are not ‘bad’. In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s favourite source of energy. They are low in kilojoules, providing only 16 kilojoules per gram (compared to 37 kilojoules per gram found in fat). And, they are found in some of our healthiest, nutrient-rich foods including fruit, yoghurt and legumes.
However, carbohydrates can also be found in foods containing little nutrition such as sugar, soft drinks and cake. Carbohydrate-containing foods can be responsible for dental caries and can contribute to weight gain. The trick is not to put all carbohydrates into the one basket. Choose your carbohydrates carefully.
What to look for when buying carbs
It is recommended that we should include at least 48g of wholegrains in our diet each day to decrease risk of medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Wholegrain foods include all parts of a grain including the starchy endosperm, the protective bran layer and the nutrient rich cereal germ. For example, brown rice contains more nutrition and less processing than white rice. Wholegrains contain more fibre, less kilojoules and more nutrients. Look for bread, breakfast cereals and biscuits that contain wholegrains, and give the others a miss.
Low GI, or low Glycemic Index foods contain carbohydrates which break down more slowly than foods with a high GI. When the carbohydrates have a lower GI, and break down more slowly, they are likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer. For example – choose sweet potato (GI 48) instead of white potato (GI 96).
Look for carbohydrate-containing foods that provide you with other important nutrients such as fibre, calcium or folate. A great way to know if a food is nutrient-rich is to look at the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating which recommends that fruit, low fat dairy, vegetables and wholegrain cereals should be eaten on a daily basis as they contain important nutrients. Conversely, doughnuts, ice cream and cake are considered ‘treat’ foods to be consumed on an occasional basis as they don’t contain any important nutrients.
Choose the correct portion sizes
A ‘serve’ of carbohydrates is defined as 15g of carbohydrates. A medium piece of fruit (eg. 150g), a 250ml glass of milk or a cup of cooked rice provide a 15g serve of carbohydrates. The Australian Guide for Healthy Eating recommends that Australians include a minimum of 6 serves of cereals, 2 serves of fruit and 3 serves of fruit each day. Ask your Dietitian how many serves of each of these core food groups that you require.
Swap ‘bad’ carbs with ‘good’ carbs
Replace your morning muffin with wholegrain belVita Breakfast biscuits which contain 5 wholegrains and are low GI. I’d recommend to also include a tub of low fat yoghurt and a piece of fruit for a balanced breakfast.
Replace your can of soft drink which contains over 10 teaspoons of sugar and acid which is bad for teeth and bones with a carton of milk which is low GI and rich in calcium.
Satisfy your cravings for sweets by swapping sugary lollies with nutrient rich fruit. Fruit is rich in vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.
Replace ice cream with frozen yoghurt which contains more calcium and ten times less fat.
About the Author
Melanie McGrice is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian with a Masters degree in Dietetics. Melanie has a special interest in weight management and healthy eating for children and adolescents. She has co-authored seven papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals to date. She is passionate about educating Australians about how to eat well, appreciate good food and maintain a healthy lifestyle so that they can feel great and get the most out of life.
Melanie is the director of Health Kick Nutrition & Dietetics and the brand ambassador of belVita Breakfast biscuits and is regularly interviewed for television news, current affairs and lifestyle programs discussing topical nutrition issues.