The popular diets of today no longer demonise fat, but instead attribute our carb intake as the factor most responsible for weight loss or gain. When we think of carbs, we typically picture a big bowl of pasta or a loaf of bread, but really, the term is much more diverse and complex than that.
What is a Carb?
Carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fibres found in fruits, grains, vegetables, syrups, milk products and more, which are broken down during digestion to create glucose. This glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream to fuel our bodies.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients, with the other two being proteins and fats.
What are the different types of carbohydrates?
Simple Starchy Carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates have a ‘simple’ molecular structure and are made up of 1-2 sugar molecules.
Simple sugars that are found in foods like:
- Sucrose (table sugar)
- Fructose (found in fruit)
- Lactose (found in milk)
Complex Starchy Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are also made up of sugars, but the sugar molecules are strung together to form longer, more complex chains. Complex starchy carbohydrates include whole grains, peas and beans, in which are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Often complex starchy carbs are refined, meaning that machinery has been used to remove the high fibre components (the bran and the germ) of the grain. When a complex carb is refined, it loses it complex structure and thus loses all properties that made it a healthy choice. Instead, it takes on the properties of a simple starchy carbohydrate and is processed by the body in the same way.
White rice, white flour, white bread, sugary cereals, pasta, noodles and pretty much all foods made from white flour are all examples of refined carbohydrates. For this reason, ‘wholegrain’ foods such as brown rice and wholemeal flour are deemed the more healthy option.
Complex Fibrous Carbohydrates
Fibrous carbs are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other nutrients, and tend to be green vegetables. Such foods are full of fibre, which is the indigestible portion of plant material. This means that much of the food passes straight through the gut and is not absorbed, thus they are great ‘colon cleansers’ and are essential for keeping the digestive process running well.
What does this mean for my diet?
Knowing more about the food you consume gives you the power to make more informed dietary decisions. If you need to medically reduce your carbohydrate intake or wish to explore a low-carb diet for weight loss, realise the breadth of foods that contain carbohydrates before finalising your meal plan.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The increasingly mainstream Ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate eating plan, that seeks to force your body into a metabolic state and therefore burn body fat to generate your energy. This diet holds a similar sentiment to the Atkins diet, in that it urges participants to only consume an ultra-low volume of carbs per day. Whilst many people have lost weight whilst following this diet, the results are often hard to maintain post-diet as your body latches-onto and retains future carbs consumed.
Before commencing a strict diet such as the Ketogenic diet, speak to your doctor, qualified personal trainer, or nutritionist, as extreme eating plans can malnourish or damage your body.