Put simply, carbohydrates give you the energy that your body needs to keep going; if you omit them from an otherwise healthy diet, you'll tire easily and end up on the 'go slow'! However, as with any food group, it's important to keep the right balance for the best results.
The body breaks down carbohydrates and turns them into glucose, which is then sent to the parts of the body where the energy is needed. This is great news for your muscles, but before you go and eat a plate full of carbohydrate-rich foods, you need to understand what happens if your carbohydrate intake is disproportionate to the amount of energy that you need.
When your body breaks down your food and turns carbohydrates into glucose, anything that isn't used will be stored by the muscles as glycogen - the problem comes when you continually eat more carbohydrates than your body needs, because the unused glycogen ends up being stored as fat.
Simple and complex carbohydrates
There are two different types of carbohydrates - simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates (otherwise known as sugars) are great for giving you a quick energy boost - but as yummy as simple carbohydrates may be, you should eat them in moderation!
Complex carbohydrates (starchy foods) should feature strongly in your healthy diet, as they will give you a slow release of energy that will last much longer than their ‘simple’ counterparts.
You might have heard about something called the Glycemic Index or GI. The Glycemic Index tells you how different carbohydrate-rich foods will affect your body. The lower the GI, the better, so look out for foods that have a GI rating of 55 or less, as these will help you to feel fuller for longer, stave off hunger, and can also help to combat high cholesterol and help diabetics to better manage their condition.
Where will I find carbohydrates?
So now you know how valuable complex carbohydrates are, and how tasty simple carbohydrates are, you need to know where to find them!
Simple carbohydrates – chocolate, jams, honey and fruit are all sources of simple carbohydrates, but don’t go crazy and try to choose ones with some nutritional value too, such as the fruit option.
Complex carbohydrates – brown rice, wholemeal cereals, lentils, nuts, potatoes, root vegetables, beans, bread and bananas are all examples of complex carbohydrates.
How much carbohydrate?
Guidelines suggest that you should aim for half of your daily food intake to be carbohydrate based - but make sure that you balance the two types; a third of your carbohydrates should be the simple sort, while the other two thirds should be complex. Get the balance right and you’ll be full of energy and vitality and will be well on the way to observing an all-important healthy diet!