Over the years carbohydrates have developed somewhat of a bad reputation. From no carb diets to 21-day carb cuts people have expected miracle results from cutting the macronutrient from their diets.
Our bodies were designed to use carbohydrates as its main source of energy. Not only are carbohydrates an important form of fuel but evidence from a variety of studies has shown that consuming sources of complex or unrefined carbohydrates on a daily basis results in accelerated weight-loss and lower body weights.
The importance lies in what carbohydrates you’re consuming. They’re divided into 2 main categories namely, simple and complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are found in baked goods and processed foods. They are also found in natural sugars (fructose), sources of which include fruits, vegetables and milk. The heavily processed, refined carbohydrates are the ones we need to look out for. They undergo processes that strip them from most of their nutrients and, due to their lack of fibre, can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Sources of refined carbohydrates include white flour, white pasta, white rice, cereals, snacks and pastries to name a few.
Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as whole-grain breads, oats, quinoa and brown rice. Due to the molecular structure of complex carbs, our bodies take a while to digest them thus keeping us fuller for longer. Consuming enough complex carbohydrates is also important for protein preservation. If we consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates the body does not break down proteins for energy use.
Fibre is a form of complex carbohydrates that can’t be broken down by the digestive system. Not only does fibre help keep us fuller for longer, but also plays a role in disease prevention and management. Some components of fibre such as those found in oats, help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall cardiovascular health. There are 2 forms of fibre namely, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre forms a gel-like substance when it reaches the stomach. It is fermented in the stomach and thus helps our healthy gut bacteria thrive. Sources of soluble fibre include oats, potatoes, black beans, broccoli, figs, carrots and apples.
Insoluble fibre remains relatively unchanged as it passes through the digestive system. It absorbs fluid and speeds up the process of stool formation thus preventing constipation and intestinal blockage. Sources of insoluble fibre include whole-wheat bread, nuts and green beans.
When checking food labels be sure to look for goods with more than 6g of fibre per 100g.
Weight-loss can be achieved through restriction of calories – regardless of which macronutrient you are restricting. The challenge lies with sustainability and it is often difficult to completely cut out a group of macronutrients. This may also lead to certain nutritional deficiencies in the long-term.
Due to the fact that whole-grain, minimally processed carbohydrates play such an important role in our health they should be incorporated into our diets on a daily basis.
Here are some great meal ideas incorporating complex, high fibre carbohydrates:
1. Wild rice salad
2. Quinoa and spinach patties
3. Sourdough toast
4. Oats with apple and cinnamon
5. Lentil soup
6. Barley risotto
7. Whole-grain pasta
8. Stuffed sweet potato
9. Sweet potato crust quiche
10. Home-made whole-grain muffins