In my last couple of articles I discussed carbohydrates and the glycemic index (GI). In my article on carbohydrates I discussed the different types and came to the conclusion that you should choose slow digesting, nutritionally dense carbohydrates where possible. In the following article I looked at the glycemic index as a potential tool for selecting carbohydrates and came to the conclusion that whilst it is a useful starting point, it is flawed and is not something you should fully base your diet around. In this article I will be bringing this information together and providing you with five top tips to consider when choosing carbohydrates.
1) USE THE GLYCEMIC INDEX AS A STARTING POINT:- The glycemic index gives foods a ranking of between 1 and 100. It then splits these rankings into three groups; low GI (foods ranked below 55), medium GI (foods ranked between 55 and 70) and high GI (foods ranked above 70). Low GI foods are seen as the best choice and should be consumed where possible whilst high GI foods should be avoided. By eating low GI foods you can enjoy a number of benefits which include improved appetite control and protection from type 2 diabetes.
The glycemic index does have a number of problems. One of these is that a single food can have multiple GIs depending upon how it is cooked, how fresh it is and more. Another problem is that it is difficult to accurately determine the glycemic index of a meal that contains different types of food.
Despite these problems it is still a good starting point when choosing your carbohydrates. For example, many fruits and vegetables have a low GI whilst most simple sugars (when eaten in their pure form) have a high GI. The majority of nutritionists would agree that your diet should contain lots of fruits and vegetables and moderate levels of simple sugars. Therefore, as long as you are aware of the problems associated with this method and do not rely on the glycemic index fully, it is a good tool to start with.
2) CHOOSE HIGH FIBRE CARBOHYDRATES WHERE POSSIBLE:- There are two types of fibre; Insoluble and Soluble. Insoluble fibre absorbs water in the digestive tract and expands into a bulky mass which then continues to move through pushing waste materials as it goes. Soluble fibre dissolves in water in the digestive tract allowing foods to be held there for longer.
Both types have a number of health benefits. Insoluble fibre promotes regular bowel movements which helps reduce constipation and lowers your risk of bowel disease. Soluble fibre slows down the digestive process which promotes better blood glucose control and also allows you to fully absorb all the vitamins and minerals from your food. On top of this fibre contains zero calories so high fibre foods can help you lose weight because they are naturally lower in calories.
Fruits, vegetables and whole grain products are all rich sources of dietary fibre. They also contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients making them an excellent carbohydrate choice.
3) CHOOSE VITAMIN RICH CARBOHYDRATES WHERE POSSIBLE:- There are thirteen different vitamins and your body needs each and every one so that it can perform essential functions. Collectively the thirteen vitamins have numerous health benefits. They are essential for growth, support healthy vision, keep your bones strong, help protect your cells from damage, reduce your risk for a number of diseases and much more.
Vitamins can be found in a variety of foods. Cabbage, spinach and other green leafy vegetables are all excellent vegetable sources. If you want to get your vitamins from fruits then bananas, berries and citrus fruits are all good choices. Furthermore, all these vitamin rich foods are natural, healthy and full of fibre making them a fantastic carbohydrate choice.
4) CHOOSE NATURAL CARBOHYDRATES WHERE POSSIBLE:- As I discussed in the above two points you should choose fibre and vitamin rich carbohydrates when you can. Whilst this is generally good advice there are certain highly processed products that artificially add fibre and vitamins back in during processing. For example, there are a number of soft drinks which contain added vitamins. Artificially adding these nutrients to processed foods creates two problems.
First, in many cases excessively high levels of these nutrients are added back in. This can potentially lead to overdosing which has a number of unpleasant side effects. Too much fibre can lead to wind, constipation and diarrhea whilst overdosing on vitamins can cause pain, cell damage and weaken your bones.
Secondly, synthetic forms of these nutrients are usually not as good as the natural form. In most cases your body cannot properly absorb synthetic nutrients meaning that they are not as beneficial for you as the natural alternatives. Furthermore, a lot of synthetic nutrients contain toxic by-products meaning that they can be damaging to your body.
For these reasons you should not just choose fibre and vitamin rich carbohydrates but you should also go natural where possible. All the fruits and vegetables I have listed so far are fantastic carbohydrate sources that are natural, high in fibre and full of vitamins. Therefore, you should make the effort to get a selection of them into your diet.
5) KEEP AN EYE ON THE TOTAL CALORIES:- Carbohydrates receive a lot of undeserved bad press. The truth is they are neither good or bad – they are simply your body’s preferred energy source. The problem with carbohydrates is that many people consume too many of them without getting adequate amounts of fibre, vitamins and minerals. This ultimately means that they consume too many calories and do not get enough nutrients from their diet which leads to weight gain and a number of health problems.
Overindulging on any of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins or fats) is not good for your body. However, by keeping an eye on the total calories you are consuming and exercising some portion control you can avoid these problems. As long as you eat sensible portions carbohydrates can be a good source of energy and various nutrients.
For many people choosing the right carbohydrates is a very tough decision as there is so much conflicting information out there. However, it does not have to be that hard. Start by choosing a few low GI carbohydrates, make sure that they are natural, high in fibre and vitamin rich and eat a sensible amount. If you do this then I am sure you will be choosing the best carbohydrates for your body.
What do you guys think? Is this the right way to choose carbohydrates? Is there anything vital that I have missed? Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment.