The featured image for this blog post is the ‘Eatwell Plate’, this is a tool designed by the Food Standards Agency and used by the NHS and nutrition experts nationally to describe how much of a certain food group we should be eating. This diagram can give you an idea of an average daily intake, but we acknowledge that not every day is going to look like this; therefore it should also be used to give you an idea of what to eat over the course of a week. Basically two thirds of your plate (or weekly intake) should be split between Fruit and Veg and Starchy Carbs, the other third is divided between dairy, protein sources and high fat/sugar snacks. This illustrates the relative portions of each food group you should be eating (although high fat/sugar could theoretically be excluded completely).
Today we will focus on Starchy Carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates (Carbs) are the food equivalent of the class geek. Geek is a term I despise as it is usually used in a derogatory sense i.e. sets out to ridicule someone for being good at academia, or for applying themselves to a worthy cause…similar I suppose to calling gym goers ‘Meat heads’! It seems that Carbs are open to stigma, despite being your bodies preferred energy source, and irrespective of whether they can maintain insulin levels which helps maximise muscle growth and development. Carbs can be subjected to social/dietary exclusion, and just like the hard working class ‘geek’, they SHOULDN’T BE!
I’m experienced in Carb manipulation and it does have its place, the build up to a bodybuilding competition may require strict ‘Carb backloading’ in order to maintain muscle and reduce body fat. Conversely the build up to a marathon or triathlon might necessitate ‘Carb loading’, a process designed to saturate glycogen stores and thus energy levels for the race. Despite these extreme measures Carbs should be a staple of any diet, if not controlled they can leave you feeling irritated and low in energy, and if you’re a Diabetic the consequences of not consuming them could be fatal!
Types Of Carbs
Carbs come in a variety of forms and are categorised based on their chemical structure, and the rate at which their glucose sub units are released and utilised for energy.
The rate at which Carbs are released into the body and thus increase blood sugar levels, relative to what pure Glucose would, is known as the Glycaemic Index (GI). Slowly absorbed foods have a low GI ranking whereas Carbs that are absorbed more quickly have a higher GI e.g. pure glucose has a GI ranking of 100.
Include starchy Carbs such as bananas, barley, beans, brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats, potato, sweet potato, wholegrain cereals, wholemeal and granary bread to name a few. Generally these types of Carbs are low GI and therefore invoke a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels, although exceptions do exist to this rule e.g. potato, rice cakes and white rice, who’s sugars are actually released quickly. A starchy Carb is usually less refined and in most cases release their glucose (sugar) more slowly.
Resistant starches come in 4 main forms including inaccessible forms in seeds, legumes and wholegrains (RS1), in raw potato and green bananas (RS2), chemically modified starches to act as a laxative (RS4) and perhaps the most readily consumed form in the UK, RS3’s which are found in many processed foods. The starches become resistant because of a heat, cool, heat process which effects the chemical structure of the Carbs making them more stubborn, more like a source of fibre, and are thus often referred to as ‘stubborn starches’.
Examples of resistant starches include:
Biscuits, pastries and cakes, pizza bases, white bread and white rice, as well as re-heated baked potatoes!
These are Carbs in their most basic form and are commonly known as simple sugars. They come in both natural and refined forms and their rate of absorption into the blood stream is minutes compared to hours. However, how quickly they are absorbed into the blood stream is heavily affected by the foods they are eaten with i.e. protein, fat and fibre slows the absorptive rate and may help to reduce the spike in blood sugars that accompany simple Carbs. As well as this, the glycaemic load of a meal will affect the blood sugar response caused by simple Carbs.
The Glycaemic Load is how much the total Carbs (in grams) eaten will increase blood sugars, and therefore factors the total Carb release and not just the GI of an individual Carb based food. Diabetes UK defines the Glycaemic Load as the grams of available Carbohydrate in the food multiplied by the foods GI, divided by 100.
Carbs are an integral macronutrient for many reasons, they help to regulate blood sugar levels, they deliver readily absorbed sources of glucose and energy, and they enable your body to deposit into your Glucose bank, otherwise known as Glycogen. If Carbs are eaten to excess they will cause a positive energy balance, which in turn causes weight gain, therefore the principle is the same for Fat, Protein and Carbs…if you eat too much i.e. more than approx 2-4g per kg bodyweight for Carbs (sometimes more depending on your physical activity levels) then you will inevitably see some fat appear around the mid-section!
Carbs…Moderate it, but don’t eliminate it!