What are the best carbohydrates to help maintain a healthy weight?

Ground breaking news! Processed or refined carbohydrates are bad for your health, fitness and well-being…. Well not really ground breaking news is it; so all of us understand that these so called ‘bad’ carbohydrates do us no favours, but without trying to poorly explain away technical sounding definitions surrounding toxins, chemicals and disease how many of you and the rest of the population truly understand the relationship between this food source and the human body?

Whole Wheat and Brown vs. White Bread, Pasta, Rice and Flour

Are processed, refined or ‘simple’ carbohydrates bad for our health?

With many billions spent each year on processed carbohydrates in the UK and over 40,000 related deaths, the above question probably answers itself.

Remember what Albert Einstein said about changing your actions ‘anyone can know something, the point is to understand it’. Let’s break it down then, simple, bad, processed or refined carbohydrates are typically foods which contain white flour, are high in sugar and often have added preservatives. These foods then are easy to spot on the supermarket shelf but there are others which you might not expect such as jacket potatoes that throw up a curve ball.

Glycaemic Index and Load

To save any confusion a scale called the glycaemic index (GI) has been devised to help diabetics especially distinguish between a good and bad carbohydrate. In brief this scale measured against the glycaemic rating of white bread (100) assesses the speed in which a carbohydrate food raises the body’s blood glucose levels.  The rationale behind the table stems from medical evidence suggesting that high GI foods cause the body to become insulin resistant, meaning that this secreted hormone used to break down fats and regulate metabolism no longer functions correctly. I recommend visiting glycaemicindex.com to better understand how most foods rate.

Just to get you thinking even harder another curve ball or point to consider is that every food on top of the GI index score has a glycaemic load (GL) rating as well between 0 and 70, over 20 considered as being high.  GL principally measures how much actual carbohydrate is released from a food, confused?.  As an example then a watermelon with a high GI rating of 75 has a low GL rating of just 7 because not that much carbohydrate is actually released from the food into the body, a similar principal applies to other fruits and vegetables such as carrots.  So this means that unless consumed in extremely high quantities most fruit and vegetables cannot be considered harmful, despite what you often read and hear. If abiding by these scales then the simple or bad carbohydrate danger remains as both white flour and processed sugar.

Avoiding White Flour (Simple Carbohydrates)

Did you know three quarters of all bread sold in the UK is still white (remember the glycaemic index measurement scale mentioned above). It is seemingly an accepted fact that white flour adds to the waistline but as Einstein states knowing and understanding are 2 very different things.  The reasoning behind the detrimental effects of white flour and it’s links to high obesity is quite scientific.

Unbeknown to many inducing white flour based foods (simple carbohydrates) releases a chemical called alloxan, which has been shown to kill the beta cells of the pancreas which make insulin through the increased release of free radicals (molecules which attack the body’s cells and immune system causing disease). As a consequence of this reaction the body is no longer able to produce enough insulin, which is why type 2 diabetics are told to avoid white flour on the GI.  It is worth remembering that Insulin is used by the body for the regulation of glucose (energy), fat and the synthesis of protein (protein is primarily used for muscle tissue repair). Therefore you could make the argument that whatever your training goal is cardiovascular endurance, weight loss or adding muscle size consuming white flour will do you no favours.

Below is a list of common simple or ‘bad’ carbohydrates containing white flour.

Pastries White Pasta / White Rice
Biscuits Crackers
Bagels White Bread
(Check even on wholemeal bread that refined flour has not been added)
Muffins Cakes

Due to the lack of fibre there are a few other issues with white flour intake as well, such as digestive issues, setting off allergies, slowing your metabolism down, stomach inflammation and even in some reports chronic diseases such as arthritis and heart disease.

Simple Carbohydrates and Weight Gain

Without insulin the body is unable to utilise carbohydrates for the conversion of glucose to glycagon for energy. This causes sugar to subsequently accumulate in the blood stream and not reach the bodies working muscles, leading to an accumulation of body fat. In individuals with healthy insulin receptors, once the body has taken glycagon (energy) from good carbohydrate foods, stored body fat will then be metabolised for energy, providing the working muscles are not malnourished and have enough fuel. Type 1 diabetics without insulin to regulate fat are often unable to lose body fat through this process, instead any reduction in weight for them will more likely be a loss of muscle (athrophy) leaving  the individual with a high excess of loose skin.

What are the best carbohydrates to help maintain a healthy weight?

To readdress the bodies balance of blood sugar levels it is crucial for any person but especially both type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetics to follow a healthy balanced diet composed of mainly complex (good) carbohydrates. The advantage of complex carbs is they slowly release glucose into the bloodstream which means you have a longer more sustained source of energy which prevents big insulin crashes and the body no longer being able to burn fat.

The alternative to white flour ingestion is the more fibrous and nutrient friendly whole-grains sometimes called whole-wheat. Consumption of this cereal grain or natural starch is found in most complex carbohydrate foods and has been shown to help lower triglyceride (type of fat) levels, a process which in turn stabilises blood sugar levels and aids controlled weight loss.  Numerous studies on this type of grain have been conducted by many academics across a series of nutrition trials. In example over 2 years Esposito et al., (2003) noted a 10% average reduction in weight amongst 60 women aged 20 to 46 who changed from a wholemeal (processed) food diet to consuming just  whole wheat healthy carbohydrates with increased physical activity.

Below is a list of recommended whole-wheat food sources.

Cereal Grains Oats, millet, barley, rye, quinoa, porridge, muesli
Pasta / Noodles Buckwheat pasta, corn pasta, rice pasta, rice noodles, buckwheat noodles, biona SPELT pasta/spaghetti
Crackers Unsalted Oat cakes, rye cakes, corn crackers, rice crackers
Flour Maize flour, millet flour, SPELT flour

*Aside from wheat natural starches (complex carbohydrates) can also be found in seeds, nuts, roots (lentils, root veg), corn and potatoes.

I very much hope this short article helps you to now move on from now not just knowing about the good vs. bad (simple vs. complex) carbohydrate relationship to actually understanding it; try making a few switches In your diet and see what differences you discover.

For further more personalised guidance on your exercise training and nutrition please do not hesitate to book a free 30 minute consultation. https://seanburgessfitness.com/personal-training/personalised-health-programmes/personalised-nutrition-programme/