Often people get confused as to what is a carbohydrate and what is a protein. Carbohydrates are an important part of a balanced diet. But there is a great difference between a carbohydrate that is full of nutrients and one that has been refined till there is nothing left and needs synthetic additives to make it whole again.
Carbohydrates are the major source of energy fuel in an average human diet, as they supply over half the total caloric intake. Roughly half of this is from polysaccharides or starches which comes from grains and vegetables. And the other half comes from simple sugars and these include sucrose, lactose, maltose and fructose.
There are two types of carbohydrates and they are
- Simple and Complex
Simple Carbohydrates are just that, simple! That means they have a smaller amount of atom groups and don’t need much breaking down. They work more rapidly than a complex carbohydrate. They are lower in fibre and nutrients and usually the ones that give us a quick boost, only to be followed by a big drop. Especially in the case of refined carbohydrates.
Complex Carbohydrates have more atoms and take longer to be broken down. Starch, Fibre and Glucose fit into this category. Complex carbohydrates are more nutrient dense, have more fibre and keep you feeling full for longer. They are also helpful in stabilising blood glucose.
All carbohydrates require absorption and transport across the gut wall so they can be distributed around the body to do their job. This means having a well-functioning digestive system that allows glucose to be transported by GLUT receptors, which is its own special transport system. This mode of transport is the one affected in Type II diabetes.
But digestion starts in the mouth. This is where you produce your amylase, which is an enzyme that helps you to break down your carbohydrates. You can help improve this by drinking either some lemon/lime water 15 minutes before a meal.
So how do you tell the difference between your carbohydrates? One way is to class your food into starch groups. Are they No Starch, Low Starch or High Starch?
No Starch Fruit and Vegetables includes:
- Asparagus, Beetroot, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Onions, Spinach, Tomato and Zucchini.
- Apricots, Berries (except blueberries), Grapes, Lemon/Lime, Mandarin, Orange, Passionfruit, Pear, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Rhubarb, Tamarillo and Watermelon.
Low Starch Fruit and Vegetables includes:
- Broccolini, Carrots, Endive, Green Peas, Pumpkin and Swede.
- Apple, Blueberries, Dried Fruits, Mango and Nashi Pear.
High Starch Foods includes:
- Cassava, Corn, Parsnips, Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes and Taro.
- Banana, Figs and Prunes.
- Breakfast cereals, Corn, Pasta (White), Rice (White), Tapioca and Wheat.
So can you look at your plate and decided what type of carbohydrate you have on it?
The recommended daily requirement in a daily diet for an average adult is 2 serves of fruit and 5-6 serves of vegetables per day. Consuming majority from your No starch fruit and vegetables is best and would fit into any dietary plan. Moderately from the Low Starch group would suit a low carbohydrate style diet plan. Only occasionally from the High Starch group and this would suit a low fat type of diet. Although you need to be using your wholegrains verses refined white when consuming your grains making it a more complex carbohydrate.
How many carbohydrates should you consume per day? Well according to the Australian Nutrient Values it should be around 45-65% of dietary intake, with 45% being a low carb diet and 65% being a higher carb diet.
A Keto diet is the restriction of all carbohydrates except for around 5%. This will push your body into ‘ketosis’, which is when your body uses fat stores instead of glucose for energy production.
The Paleo diet is a low carbohydrate diet usually somewhere around 20-50 grams per day. The idea is that you are eating more protein, good fats and vegetables and you have a better quality of diet.
A low GI diet is similar to the Paleo in that you only consume a small amount of carbohydrates per day, but you are concentrating of the type of carbs you are consuming. That goes back to the starch list above and you would be looking at the No Starch and Low Starch lists.
I also need to talk about refined carbohydrates. These are the nasty ones that have no real nutrient value, and are consumed at a much higher rate. These type of carbs are what you find in packaged, takeaway and bakery products. You will also find them in white flours and white pastas (made with refined white flours).
To improve this intake it is best you choose wholegrain flours, a good quality wholegrain bread and brown rice instead of the refined ones. There are so many great flour alternatives that contain more proteins and nutrients and it is worth the experiment. Some of these flours include buckwheat, rye, quinoa, tiger nut, almond meal, spelt, kammut, hazelnut meal and even coconut (although this is a higher fat content and is best used alongside the other flours).
All of the above diets are often used to help with weight reduction, blood glucose balancing and improving cardiovascular risk. The keto diet has been used to help in cases of epilepsy, but this is a restrictive diet and shouldn’t be followed for long.
Each of these types of diets are beneficial to the right person, but not all diets suit everybody. It depends on your health conditions and how you respond to food. If you are looking to try one of these diets, it is best to seek the help of a nutritional consultant.
Gropper, S. S., & Smith, J. L. (2008). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (fifth edition). Cengage Learning.
Carb Choice: Fitgenes Pty Ltd, www,mycarbchoice.com.au