There is a huge amount of conflicting advice regarding how much carbohydrate should be consumed within a healthy diet. Combined with the positive press fat is now receiving it’s difficult to know how much – and what type – of carbohydrate we should eat.

Carbohydrate provides the body with energy with the type of carbohydrate generally split into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are more refined and digested relatively fast providing more immediate energy whereas complex carbohydrates release energy over a sustained period.

If someone is running a marathon they need energy to absorb quickly so it enables them to keep running. A simple carbohydrate (e.g. an energy gel) would be an ideal choice in this instance. The same runner will also have a very fast metabolism which is generally more likely to maintain their weight than someone who trains occasionally: their metabolism is burning considerably more calories around the clock. The problem many people have is their body isn’t able to metabolise the energy at the rate it’s absorbed.

The second problem is that simple carbohydrates often stimulate further hunger regardless of the calorific content. A simple example would be a packet of biscuits: it’s very easy to finish the packet as the food is very appealing without being satisfying. To eat the same amount of calories of a food high in complex carbohydrate would be much harder work.

There is also growing consensus that in many cases the body is not designed to eat a high carbohydrate diet. By consuming a higher percentage of protein, natural fat and fibre it’s now commonly believed the body is healthier and weight is easier to manage.

Foods can be ranked by the rate at which they’re absorbed on the Glycemic Index (GI). The faster the rate of absorption the higher the score.

Examples of high GI food which contain simple carbohydrates are:

  • White rice
  • White bread
  • Corn flakes
  • Bagels
  • Rice cakes

Examples of low GI food which contain complex carbohydrates are:

  • Brown rice
  • Granary bread
  • Porridge
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables

A simple way of choosing foods without using the Glycemic Index is to simply follow the following principle: avoid anything white and always choose the wholegrain option.

Also be aware that many ‘healthy’ low fat foods have a high sugar content. Providing fat is natural (e.g. meat, nuts, dairy) it would provide a more sustained energy release and also be a healthier option.

Conclusion:

People vary in their ability to metabolise carbohydrate efficiently. Consideration must be given to the type of carbohydrate being consumed and the Glycemic Index is a useful reference in helping make the right choices.

If you eat a low fat diet and struggle to maintain a healthy weight you might benefit from reducing carbohydrate and increasing the amount of protein and fat in your diet.