How To Make Carbs Part Of A Healthy Diet

How To Make Carbs Part Of A Healthy Diet

Whether it’s a bowl of pasta or roast potatoes with your Sunday lunch, carbs have long been demonised for causing excess weight gain and sluggishness. Nevertheless, nutritionists agree they are an essential part of the diet – when consumed correctly, they can actually improve energy levels and even gut health. Here, three nutritional experts reveal the best ways to get yours.

Focus On Nutrient-Dense Carbs

It’s common knowledge that the likes of croissants, white sliced bread and French fries won’t do much from a nutritional point of view, but that’s not to say all carbs are the devil, explains nutritionist Jenna Hope. Simple carbs, found in puddings, sugary drinks and white rice, pasta and bread are easier to overeat as they get readily absorbed into the blood. What the body doesn’t need, however, gets stored in fat cells. Doing this regularly over time can lead to weight gain, which is why carb-rich foods are often blamed for weight gain. “When it comes to making choices around carbs, it’s about making smart choices instead of excluding them altogether. Carbs are essential for energy production, mental wellbeing and gut health. Ditch white carbs and focus on starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beans and pulses, and opt for wholegrain pasta and brown rice, as well as sourdough instead of your usual loaf,” says Jenna. “By choosing complex carbs, you’ll feel fuller for longer and are less likely to experience a blood sugar crash. The fibre they contain will also benefit gut health and keep you regular.”

Switch Couscous For Quinoa

If you’re partial to a side of couscous, consider switching it up for quinoa, advises registered nutritional therapist Caroline Mason – one half of Baldo & Mason. “Quinoa contains nearly twice as much fibre as couscous, and it releases nutrients slowly into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar balanced. Quinoa has also been shown to favour weight loss, as it produces lower free fatty acid levels than other grains, which are linked to insulin resistance. Try making your own Buddha bowl for a quick and healthy supper. Lightly steam a few handfuls of kale, peeled carrots, red beetroot and broccoli, and mix with a quarter of a cup of chopped almonds and a cup of cooked quinoa. For the dressing, mix one clove of garlic with fresh ginger, the juice of half a lemon, two tablespoons of organic tahini and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.”

Add Nuts To Your Breakfast 

“Having a small bowl of healthy carbs will set you up nicely for the day,” adds registered nutritional therapist Roberta Baldo – the other half of Baldo & Mason. “But what you choose matters. Old-fashioned oats are a great choice, as is any cereal that lists wholegrain first on the ingredient list and is low in sugar. Choose a cereal that has at least 4g of fibre and less than 8g of sugar per serving. Adding a handful of nuts to your cereal or bowl of porridge will also keep blood sugar levels stable – I always add either hazelnuts or almonds to my breakfast.” And if porridge is your thing, Jenna recommends choosing jumbo oats over regular porridge oats, as they’ll release energy more slowly into the bloodstream.

Swap Jam For Peanut Butter

If you can’t start your day without a couple of slices of toast or a bagel, pair it with a source of protein to balance blood sugar until lunchtime. “One clever trick for making carbs healthier is eating a food with a high GI index – i.e. a simple carb such as bread or white pasta – alongside some protein. For example, if you’re having a white bagel for breakfast, spread it with a tablespoon of nut butter instead of strawberry jam,” Jenna recommends. 

White carbs may get a bad rap, but white basmati rice is the exception. It has the lowest GI index of most rice varieties.

Don’t Ditch White Rice

White carbs may get a bad rap, but white basmati rice is the exception, says Roberta. “Both brown and white basmati rice have the lowest glycaemic index (GI) of all rice varieties. Wholegrain basmati rice has the lowest GI, but there isn’t much in it, so if you want a bowl of white rice, just be sure to make it basmati.” Taking the GI index into consideration, it’s also worth cooking your pasta al dente, as a longer cooking time raises a pasta’s GI score. “Pasta carbs are trapped inside a network of gluten, slowing their conversion into glucose, meaning the longer you cook it, the more glucose is released,” she adds.

Load Up On Berries

To maintain a healthy weight, nutritionist Kim Pearson says it’s worth moderating the amount of fruit you eat, particularly those high in sugar. “Berries are fantastic as they’re relatively low in sugar and yet still taste deliciously sweet. I love to use frozen berries in a smoothie. Steer clear of dried fruits, however, which contain around ten times the amount of sugar found in fresh and frozen berries.” Berries aside, any fruit high in fibre gets the green light. “The higher the fibre, the slower your body breaks down the carbs from the fruit’s sugars, preventing blood sugar spikes, which can lead to weight gain and metabolic issues,” adds Roberta. “Apples are a great example – they are very low on the GI scale and contain prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in your gut. This, in turn, can improve gut health and regulate mood. Add a spoonful of tahini and a dash of cinnamon to apple slices to help further control blood sugar fluctuations.”

Swap Brown Bread For Rye

There’s real science behind swapping a white loaf for a brown one but take things one step further and choose a rye loaf for further health benefits. “Studies show wholegrain rye bread ranks number one among the various rye flours when it comes to controlling blood sugar and regulating appetite,” says Caroline. “Wholegrain rye crispbread is also a good option, as is regular sourdough bread, which triggers lower blood glucose levels than other breads. The fermentation process used when making sourdough changes the structure of the carbs. Rye and sourdough are also packed with fibre, and studies show fibre-rich starch will decrease hunger sensations, keep you regular and feed your good gut bacteria. A healthy and varied microbiome is linked to lower levels of inflammation, which is conducive to a balanced weight,” she says. 

Be Savvy With Potatoes

As long as they’re not consumed in the form of French fries, potatoes can be part of a balanced diet, says Roberta. “Boiled potatoes have a lower GI than baked ones and allowing potatoes to cool slightly before eating them can also be beneficial, as cooking a potato raises the GI, while cooling it lowers the GI. This may sound like a simple hack, but it can make a difference to blood sugar and how the carbs are stored. It may also be helpful to know that anything acidic will lower a meal’s GI. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or some vinegar to your dish and you could lower its GI by around 20-35%.” It could also be eating more sweet potatoes, adds Caroline. “Sweet potatoes have been shown to increase levels of a hormone called adiponectin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar and helps encourage a faster metabolism. They’re also fat-free and have fewer calories than white potatoes.”

Rethink Portion Sizes

If you want to lose a few pounds and still eat carbs, the experts say it is possible, it just comes down to sensible portions. “We’ve become accustomed to base our meals on a large serving of starchy carbs, like rice, bread or pasta,” says Kim. “Instead, try to make carbs a smaller part of your meal, alongside a source of protein, a moderate portion of healthy fats and plenty of veg, rather than the main event.” It could also be worth thinking about how you balance out the rest of your meals throughout the day, says Kim, who recommends a macronutrient ratio of 50% fat, 25% protein and 25% carbs to her weight-loss clients. Roberta agrees, saying 50g of carbs per day is a sensible amount if you want to lose a few pounds fairly quickly. “As a guide, one medium slice of wholemeal bread, three Ryvita and 50g of basmati rice each contain around 15g of carbs.” 

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