Carbohydrate comparisons – good, bad and ugly

Carolina Diaz-Bordon

Though the Seven Wonders of the World continue to baffle and intrigue, there is an even weightier enigma that mankind attempts to uncover time and time again: carbohydrates.

Whether it's good or bad, everyone has something to say about carbs these days. They have become one of the hottest topics of conversation, taking over front pages and sweeping the airwaves. Yet, with all the buzz, the primary health functions of carbohydrates remain a hidden mystery.

Luckily, unlike the great wonders of the world, the answers to this great nutritional puzzle are not far from reach. Good carbs, bad carbs, complex and simple - what's the difference?

Nutritionist Susan Burke has made it her mission to untangle the web and separate facts from fiction when it comes to carbs. "Picture a cubic zirconium and a whole diamond, they both look like diamonds but only one of them is the real thing. This is the difference between refined carbs and unrefined or complex carbs", Burke says.

"For example, think about a loaf of [white] bread and think about a loaf of wholegrain bread that has some seeds in it. Unlike the whole grain loaf, which is naturally full of different types of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and fibre, the [white] bread has been taken out of its natural form, processed, then put together to make an imitation of the real thing."

We eat food, not just carbohydrates. It's the amount of carbs and how the body processes them that makes the difference. Consuming carbohydrates, especially before and after strenuous exercise, can help provide energy, prevent hunger and delay fatigue.

According to Susan, when you eat refined carbohydrates they are quickly digested and absorbed then quickly absorbed into your bloodstream as glucose. Glucose is the pure form of energy that is used by your muscles and your cells. The problem is if you have too much it gets stored in your fat cells. The best way to prevent this from happening is to avoid eating really refined carbohydrates.

"Fruit, for example, is a carbohydrate", Susan notes. "The good carbs in the fruit department are the part that contains the peel and the pulp. Juice is the fruit sugar, which is called fructose.

"It only takes about five seconds to drink a glass of juice", she added. "That means you swallowed 150 calories in 5 seconds flat. To get that same amount of calories from an orange you'd have to peel and eat two of them. This process would take you at least 10 minutes. This makes you full for fewer calories and more nutrition."

When it comes down to it, carbohydrates are not nearly as confusing as the hype that surrounds them. The key is to choose wisely and not to settle for anything but the best.

Don't waste your calories on foods that offer little nutrition for a lot of calories. Bleached, refined breads, rice, pasta, juices and fizzy drinks rob you of the nutrition you deserve. Don't settle for these cheap imposters.

Go for the natural richness and nutritional power of wholegrains. They will fuel you with power and keep your waistline in check.

To gear you up and send you in the right direction, Susan has provided a road map of some of the healthiest carbs around, followed by a few not-so-good carbs.

Good carbohydrates

1. Wholegrain breakfast cereals
2. Wholegrain bread
3. Fruits
4. Vegetables
5. Brown rice
6. Porridge oats
7. Barley
8. Beans
9. Lentils
10. Sweet potatoes

Not so good carbohydrates

1. Frosted breakfast cereals
2. White bread
3. Doughnuts
4. Biscuits
5. Cakes
6. Fizzy drinks
7. Crisps
8. Chips
9. Pastry
10. Syrup

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