What exactly are ‘good carbs’? There’s been a lot of noise in the last decade and a half about carbohydrates. If you haven’t been subscribed to the Journal of the American Medical Association during that time, you’d be forgiven for not exactly keeping track of what all the talk has been about.
Carbohydrates are complex sugars that are broken down into simpler ones that your body can use for energy. How quickly that energy can be liberated from the carbs determines how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ a carbohydrate is. The measure of how quickly the energy from a carbohydrate is released is called its ‘Glycemic Index’.
Specifically, we want carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index, or are ‘Low-GI’. This means that they release their energy slowly over time, rather than all in one big go. If you eat bad carbs that release energy quickly, you will enjoy a sugar spike for about an hour before crashing as your body gathers up all that excess sugar to store it as – you guessed it – fat.
Think twice about carb intake
Now, if you’re going straight to the gym after eating that pizza, that’s fine. Your body will use most of that energy up. But let’s face it: most of us are not going straight to the gym. We’re going to sit on the couch and watch a movie.
So what makes a carbohydrate release its energy quickly? Generally it’s when half of the digestion has already been done for you, in the form of refining processes to make the sugars simpler. This means anything that’s made out of white flour, but it also means things like white rice, white pasta and potatoes.
Food companies want you to eat bad carbs, because they make you feel happy and up (because of the sugar high), and then you get hungry an hour later and go and buy more. Good carbohydrates aren’t that difficult to find, once you know where to look for them. You might find them in some surprising places – fruits and vegetables all contain good carbohydrates, as do a lot of nuts. Whole grains, it goes without saying, are packed full of low-GI carbs.
So here’s a list of good carbs to get you started:
Bear in mind that this doesn’t include all of the foods that can be considered ‘good carbs’, but it gives you an indication of what to look for.
- Vegetables (especially green, leafy ones)
- Beans (not canned beans in fatty sauces – the ones you cook yourself)
- Nuts (also a great source of Omega-3 oils, which help lower cholesterol)
- Whole grain breads
- Whole grain cereals
- Whole grain pastas
- Some dairy products
That gives you a pretty good idea of what to look for. Next time you’re in the grocery store, all you have to do to make sure you’re eating good carbs this week is to walk straight past the white bread and pick up the most appetizing-looking loaf of brown seed bread. Buy whole-wheat pasta instead of the regular kind, and get yourself a bag of brown rice. It’s that simple!
Avoid potatoes if you can, and rather eat sweat potatoes or couscous as your starch. As a general rule the more brown a carbohydrate is, the better – but don’t be fooled. Finely milled brown bread is often just as bad as white bread, and since there is no definite line between low-GI and high-GI, some companies get away with calling their foods low-GI when actually they’re barely better than white bread.
Make sure you keep this list with you, and try this week to replace at least four of your dinners’ carbs with good, healthy carbs!