All You Need To Know About Carbohydrates

Cutting carbs is a popular weight loss solution, but do you know which ones to reduce?


When it comes to weight loss there are many theories: other than a healthy balanced diet sometimes a small switch can make a big difference and when it comes to carbohydrates that is certainly true.

Personally, I certainly found that reducing my carbohydrate intake made an immediate and noticeable difference to my weight but it can be hard to know exactly what you should be increasing or decreasing.

Why do we need them?

Think of carbohydrates as raw material that powers your body. You need them to make sugar for energy.

They come in two types: simple and complex. What’s the difference? Simple carbs are like quick-burning fuels but they break down fast into sugar in your system. You want to eat less of this type.

Complex carbs are usually a better choice because it takes your body longer to break them down.

Always check the label

Nutrition labels offer an easy way to spot added sugar, the source of simple carbs that you want to cut back on. Just look for words that end in “ose.”

The chemical name for table sugar is sucrose. Other names you might see include fructose, dextrose, and maltose. The higher up they appear in the ingredients list, the more added sugar the food has.

Just avoid simple carbs?

Well, it’s not quite that easy. Foods that have been processed with added sugars generally aren’t as healthy a choice, it’s true.

However simple carbs occur naturally in some foods that are part of a balanced diet. For example, most milk and other dairy products contain lactose, or milk sugar.

Bread basics

As complex carbs are good for you you need to know which grain was used to make your loaf.

Look for bread made with whole grains and barley, rye, oats, and wholemeal are top choices.

What about fruit?

They’re sweet, which must mean they have simple carbs, but they’re still a healthy choice for other reasons.

They’ve got fibre in them, which helps slow the breakdown of sugar. Plus, most are a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium.

Fruit with skins you can eat, such as pears, apples, and berries, are especially high in fibre.

Beware the ‘liquid’ carbs

That soft drink you’re sipping could be a sneaky source of simple carbs. That’s because non-diet drinks often contain a sweetener, often high-fructose corn syrup or similar.

It’s listed on the nutrition label, and if it is one of the first ingredients listed that is a warning sign. Twelve ounces of a such drinks have 39 grams of carbs, all coming from the sugar in it.

Good sources of complex carbs

These are the nutrient-dense carbs you want to make the basis of the carbs in your diet:

  • Wholemeal breads, pastas, and flour
  • Brown and wild rices
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Potatoes, including sweet potatoes
  • Sweetcorn
  • Legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and others

Sweeten with caution

You can quickly load up on simple carbs if you’re not careful about what you stir into your hot drink or put on your morning porridge.

Go easy on brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and molasses, agave nectar. They’re more natural but also sources of simple carbs. If you use sweeteners again look for something natural such as Stevia rather than the aspartame derivatives linked to health problems.

Benefits from beans

They’re a good way to get complex carbs and there is plenty of choice: kidney, haricot and cannellini beans are a good source of protein and are high in fibre as are lentils and split peas.

If you are looking for a quick snack baked beans on wholemeal toast are a good source of both protein and fibre. Lentils or split peas are another way to add complex carbs to your diet.

Healthy treat?

It seems too good to be true, but you popcorn is a whole grain. That means it’s got complex carbs and fibre.

Your healthiest choice is air-popped, without any added fat and salt. Season it with your favorite dried herbs and spices instead.

Good grains

Luckily there is now a very good selection of whole grains from around the world that are available in the supermarket and they can be a good choice to get complex carbs in your diet.

Some grains to look for are millet, a staple from Africa and Asia, bulgur, which is used in Middle Eastern dishes. If you can find it, triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye and originally grown in Scotland and Germany and more likely to be found in health stores.

Rice is another good grain if it is brown as it is a good source of complex carbs. White rice is a “refined” grain, meaning it has lost some key nutrients during processing so best limited.