Food talk: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are digested inside the body to produce glucose/sugar, it is the main source of energy for the brain, muscles, and cells. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex:

Simple carbohydrates are sugars with simple structure. Think of burning a piece of paper – easy to set it on fire and it is also easy to burn the entire piece of paper. Simple carbohydrates are digested in the body really quick, giving a fast source of energy that doesn’t last long.

In processed, packaged and fast foods, simple carbohydrates can be in the form of added sugar, as a flavour enhancer. If it is in the form of added sugar, there is little or no nutritional value, we often call this ‘empty calories’.

However, they are not always bad and also exist naturally in foods that are good for us, notably fruits, milk and other dairy products.  Most fruits contain good levels of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  Milk and dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium.



Complex carbohydrates are sugars with a complex structure; it takes the body longer to break them down to produce glucose/sugar.  Foods rich in complex carbohydrates also contain vitamins, minerals and fibre which are important to overall health.

Foods with complex carbohydrates are processed more slowly; think burning a log. This provides more energy over longer periods of time than simple carbohydrates.

Foods rich in complex carbohydrates include whole grains, wholemeal bread and wholegrain breakfast cereals, oats, pasta, rice (especially brown rice), potatoes, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Eating too much or eating the wrong type of carbohydrate makes your body’s blood sugar levels out of balance. This might lead to mood swings – which, in turn, can leave you feeling tired and irritated.


What if I Eat Too Much?

Eating too much carbohydrates will lead to weight gain, this is because the body stores unused glucose for later use.

Usually, however, the preparation and cooking method have the greatest effect on weight control.  French fries, chips, crisps and roast potatoes are all prepared using fat and therefore contain fat – baked and boiled potatoes are better for you as they have not been prepared in fat.  Similarly, steamed rice is much better than fried rice and bread is better for you without adding butter or margarine



How Much Carbohydrate Do We Need?

There is no simple answer to this question because different people have different needs. However, as a general rule we should aim to get half of our food sources from carbohydrates.  Our in house dietitian will be able to break down this complex equation and provide you with a simple to follow guide that allows you to still enjoy all your favourite foods without compromising your health and wellness.



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