Carbohydrates sometimes have a bad reputation and strong association with weight gain. However, a lot of the time we just need to understand more about healthy and unhealthy sources of carbohydrates and how to distinguish the difference between them.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, meaning your body requires it in your daily diet – other macronutrients include protein and fat. The 3 main types of carbohydrates are sugar, starches, and fibre.
Sugars are a simple carbohydrate and exist in sweet food such as chocolate, milk, and fruit.
Starch is also a complex carbohydrate and is found in vegetables and cooked dry beans.
Fibre is a complex carbohydrate and is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
These carbohydrates are broken down and digested by the body differently. Sugary foods and drinks are quickly broken down and provide a short-lasting energy boost. Starch is harder to be broken down meaning it releases energy more slowly.
Where can you find carbohydrates in your food?
Carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, both healthy and unhealthy. Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates are found in white bread, pastries, fizzy drinks, and foods that are highly processed.
We should aim to choose more nutrient dense healthy carbohydrate foods in our diet. These can be found in:
- Whole grains: quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain pasta
- Fruits: berries, citrus fruits, melons, apples, bananas
- Starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, corn, peas, carrots
- Legumes: lentils, black beans, chickpeas
- Milk products: low-fat milk, plain yogurt
Why do you need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates play an important role in our diet. They provide a lot of energy for our body that fuel processes in our bodies. If your diet does not include enough carbohydrates you may suffer from headaches, fatigue, weakness, difficulty concentrating, nausea, constipation, bad breath and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
How much carbohydrates should be in your diet?
The World Health organisation recommends that carbohydrates should make up roughly half of your total daily calories. Therefore, if you eat 2,000 calories a day between 900 and 1,300 of those calories should be from carbohydrates, which is between 225g and 325g a day.
The amount of carbohydrates in packaged food can be found on the Nutrition Facts label which shows total carbohydrates and can include fibre, total sugars and added sugars.
To learn more about carbohydrates visit: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/starchy-foods-and-carbohydrates/