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What's the deal with carbs?

Carbohydrates have been slated in the media for being responsible for weight gain, diabetes and myriad of other chronic problems. There are many low carbohydrate diet plans out there that promise all sorts of health benefits, and yet carbohydrates provide us with energy, so what is the deal with carbohydrates and should we be eating them?

Carbohydrates are fuel for the body, but confusion often comes about because of the different types of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates come in two forms: fast-release and slow-release. Fast-release carbohydrates give a sudden burst of energy followed by a slump. This is because they cause a spike in blood glucose levels and insulin. They are absorbed quickly by the body and have less of an effect on satiety (how full you feel). Examples of fast-release carbohydrates are sugar, honey, white rice, white flour, and the foods that contain them, such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, some breakfast cereals, white pasta, white bread and soft drinks. Fast-release carbohydrates should be eaten sparingly.

Slow-release carbohydrates release energy over a longer period of time and are preferable. They contain more complex carbohydrates and more fibre, which means the food takes longer to break down providing that gradual release of energy, and a greater feeling of satiety as blood sugar levels are affected more steadily. These types of foods also tend to be less refined and contain more vitamins and minerals than fast-release carbohydrates. Most of the carbohydrates we eat should be slow-release carbohydrates. Slow-release carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains (e.g. oats, barley, whole wheat), nuts, beans and pulses (e.g. chickpeas and lentils). Some fruits contain faster-releasing carbohydrates and if you are concerned about your blood glucose levels, it is recommended to keep fruit consumption to a maximum of 2 portions per day.

Examples of meals containing slow-release carbohydrates include:

Breakfast – porridge made with whole oats, milk and served with sliced banana and flaked almonds

Lunch – a bowl of bean and barley soup served with a wholemeal roll

Dinner - vegetable curry made with chickpeas, cauliflower, peas, onions and carrots, served with brown rice

In summary, carbohydrates are an important source of energy – choose slow-release carbohydrates most of the time.


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