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HANDS up if you’ve ever heard your best mate, partner or cousin say: “I’m cutting out carbs”, which generally means: “I’m laying off the breads, spuds and pasta”?Thanks to past nutritional advice, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking carbs will make us fat but contrary to popular opinion — certain carbs can help you burn body fat and dodge disease, provided you shop smart.
What is carbohydrate quality?
Not all carbs are created equal and often they get lumped into one group. Low quality (refined) carbs are devoid of any nutrients, won’t keep you full, and too much is associated with a slew of health issues.
Typical low-quality carbs include white bread, some forms of white rice and pasta, pastries, sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods, which may also contain added sugar, cheap vegetable oils, salt and other additives. As they are digested, the low-quality carbs in such foods quickly trigger unhealthy spikes in blood sugar and insulin that promote the storage of body fat and contribute to overeating.
High-quality carbs are nutrient-rich and are slow-digesting which can prevent overeating and help keep your weight in check. Here are the best carbs to choose.
A survey of over 9000 Australian adults, published last year found that eating core grain foods isn’t linked to the size of your waistline. Results showed that adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods had similar waist circumferences and BMI’s compared with adults who had the lowest core grain intakes.
It is believed that the higher fibre content of diets rich in whole grains is one of the main mechanisms through which they help control body weight, most notably via their powerful appetite-suppressing properties. Still, 70 per cent of Australians fall short of the whole grain recommendation.
A simple swap of the white bread in your sandwich for a wholemeal variety, or switching a serve (1 cup) of white rice or pasta with your dinner for brown rice, wholemeal pasta, barley or quinoa will be enough to meet the recommended three serves per day.
Thanks to their low GI, fibre-rich oats stay in your stomach for hours, staving off your morning snack attack. Majority of the fibre in oats is the soluble type, the kind that works like a sponge, soaking up water to slow down digestion and lowers the glycaemic index (GI) of the food.
Eating low GI carb foods causes a steady rise in blood glucose, which in turn leads to a gentle rise in insulin so blood sugar gets used right away for immediate energy, rather than stored as body fat. Steer clear of the instant varieties with added sugars and sweeten yourself with fruit and a pinch of cinnamon.
Despite their name, sweet potato don’t actually belong to the potato family. Whereas potatoes are starchy, sweet potatoes (orange, red or purple) are a sweet-tasting tuberous root vegetable, which are lower in starch and dish up a generous amount of fibre along with water — a dynamic duo which lowers the energy (calorie) density of the food.
Result? More bang for your bite and lasting fullness after noshing on them. Put it through a spiralizer to make your very own sweet potato noodles or try toasting a slice of sweet potato and then adding your favourite toppings for a nutritional and delicious breakfast with a twist.
Legumes, including beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils have a hefty dose of resistant starch, a type of fibre that helps to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, known as the ‘prebiotic’ effect. While each type of legume has varying amounts of types of fibre, they’re all good choices since they also pack an economical source of protein and iron. Swap a meat heavy dish for beans or legumes in casseroles, salads, burritos and pasta dishes a couple of times per week to increase the bulk without the added kilojoules.
I think we can all agree that fruit is healthy, but anyone who cuts down on fruit to reduce their sugar intake is making a big mistake. Yes fruit is rich in sugar (aka fructose) however, these sugars are bound up in cell walls along with fibre, nutrients and phytochemicals.
Our bodies have to work fairly hard to break these cells down, release the sugars and then absorb them. Besides, fruit requires a lot of chewing so you’ll likely feel more satisfied after eating it.
This is a very different scenario to slurping down a fruit juice. Needless to say, there is strong evidence to show increased sugar in sweetened beverages, including fruit juice does cause modest weight gain. So let fruit be the sweet treat of choice and aim for two serves a day.
Kathleen Alleaume is an exercise and nutrition scientist and founder of The Right Balance | follow her on Facebook or Twitter @therightbalance
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