Carbohydrates are one ingredient many dieters are keen to avoid. And for good reason—eating a Carb-rich diet can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, inflammation and all the chronic diseases associated with that, from cardiovascular disease to cancer. But before you vouch to give pasta up forever, read on—I’ll show you which carbohydrate foods to avoid, and give you some healthy alternatives that will satisfy your carb cravings, fill you up and even help you lose weight.
Essential for Wellness
Carbohydrates are one of the three groups of macronutrients essential for health, along with protein and fat. Your body converts carbohydrates into energy, which fuels all your cells’ vital functions. But not all carbohydrates are created equal—while some boost wellbeing, others stress the body and promote disease.
Carbohydrates and Disease
When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into sugar. Your pancreas releases insulin to help absorb this sugar and keep your blood sugar balanced. Insulin also happens to be the fat-storing hormone. When there is too much sugar in your system, your pancreas has to release increasing amounts of insulin to deal with this influx—over time, this leads to insulin-resistance and diabetes. Insulin also happens to be the fat-storing hormone. The more insulin in your system, the more fat your body holds on to.
Not All Carbs Are Equal
Thankfully, with just a little knowledge, you can easily navigate the world of carbs, avoiding the ones that cause disease and replacing them with healthy alternatives that will improve your wellbeing and keep you energised. There are three main category of carbohydrate you need to keep in mind:
These are made from ingredients that have been heavily processed, usually to extract a particular part of the original food. For example, white flour is a refined carbohydrate: it is thus so by removing the wheatgerm and fibre from the complete grain. High fructose corn syrup is extracted from corn, via a chemical process that results in an ultra-sweet ingredient. You’ll find refined carbohydrates in practically all processed foods. They’re also known as “empty carbohydrates” because they are devoid of nutrients—they do not provide your body with any goodness, and end up as pure sugar in your body, causing weight gain and diseases like diabetes, obesity and cancer. These are the types of carbohydrates you want to avoid at all costs.
Simple carbohydrates include lactose and fructose, which are found respectively in milk and fruit. These are good carbohydrates to eat for a quick burst of energy, as part of the whole food. Fruit contains fructose along with fibre, vitamins and minerals. It doesn’t cause the blood-sugar level spike in the same way as refined carbohydrates.
These are the best types of carbohydrate you can consume. They are absorbed more slowly by the body, which results in stable blood sugar levels and more constant energy. Complex carbohydrates are also generally high in fibre, so they make filling meals and help you to stay satisfied for longer. Fibre is also essential for healthy digestion. You’ll find these in legumes, beans, whole grains, vegetables and root vegetables.
Carbohydrate Foods to Avoid
As you can see, some carbohydrates are better than others. While you don’t need to abstain from all of them, those listed below are those best to avoid:
White / refined flour
• White pasta
• White bread
• Donuts, pastries, etc.
White / refined sugar
• Salad dressing
• Ready meals
• Tinned soup
• Cured meats and ham
Don’t get caught out – check the label. Sugar hides within unlikely foods under names like maltodextrin, maltose, dextrin, invert sugar, rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, beet sugar, mannitol, galactose, etc.
Now for the good news – you can absolutely satisfy your craving for carbohydrates, while giving your body some love in the form of healing vitamins and minerals.
Grains like amaranth, kamut, millet, quinoa, black rice, buckwheat and spelt are tasty and filling alternatives to white bread, pasta and rice. You can find many different types of wholegrain pastas, breads and flours in most health food shops and supermarkets. Why not try something new, like buckwheat noodles, wholegrain spelt pasta or kamut bread?
Beans and legumes
Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, broad beans, cannellini beans – the list is endless. Legumes are a fantastic source of complex carbohydrates, plant protein and healthy fibre. What is more, they are incredibly easy to add to your diet. Turn a light salad into a hearty meal by adding some black beans. Make a tasty hummus dip with chickpeas, or a spicy curry with lentils. There are so many options available to inspire.
Give yourself some sweetness in the form of fruit and dried fruit, which deliver a dose of nutrients and fibre with its simple carbs. Ditch the white sugar and opt instead for more natural alternatives like raw honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar.
There you have it – now you know which carbohydrate foods to avoid, and which ones to include in your diet. Replacing your usual refined carbohydrate foods with healthier alternatives will balance your blood sugar, help you lose weight, improve your energy levels and boost your wellbeing.