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?
The understanding that processed or refined carbohydrates are detrimental to our health is not a new concept. However, what many people may not fully grasp is the detailed relationship between these types of carbohydrates and the human body. While it’s easy to label such foods as “bad,” it’s essential to delve deeper into how they impact our overall health, fitness, and well-being.
Processed and refined carbohydrates, often found in sugary snacks, white bread, and sugary beverages, can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. This can result in a quick burst of energy followed by a crash, leaving individuals feeling fatigued and craving more unhealthy foods. Additionally, these types of carbohydrates are typically low in essential nutrients, leading to a lack of satiety and potential overconsumption of empty calories.
Understanding the relationship between processed carbohydrates and the human body is crucial for making informed choices about our diet. By opting for whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, we can better support our health and well-being. Making small changes to prioritize nutrient-dense foods over processed options can have a significant impact on our overall health and fitness goals.
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.
Albert Einstein’s famous quote, “Anyone can know something, the point is to understand it,” perfectly encapsulates the concept of making informed choices, especially when it comes to our dietary habits. In the realm of nutrition, it’s essential to not only be aware of what we are consuming but to truly comprehend the impact it has on our health and well-being. When it comes to carbohydrates, it’s important to differentiate between simple, bad, processed, and refined varieties. These types of carbohydrates are often found in foods containing white flour, high levels of sugar, and added preservatives, making them easily identifiable on supermarket shelves. However, there are also hidden sources of these carbohydrates that may come as a surprise, such as jacket potatoes, which can pose a challenge when trying to make healthier choices.
By delving deeper into the distinctions between various types of carbohydrates, we empower ourselves to make more conscious decisions about our dietary intake. Understanding the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates, and recognizing which foods fall into each category, enables us to prioritize nutrient-dense options that support our overall health and vitality. This heightened awareness allows us to navigate the grocery store with a discerning eye, choosing whole, unprocessed foods over their less beneficial counterparts. By heeding Einstein’s advice and moving beyond mere knowledge to true understanding, we can make informed choices that positively impact our well-being and quality of life.
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.
Did you know that three quarters of all bread sold in the UK is still white? Despite the growing awareness of the negative impacts of white flour on health, it remains the bread of choice for many consumers. White flour has a high glycaemic index, meaning it can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to insulin resistance and weight gain. This statistic brings to light the importance of understanding the glycaemic index measurement scale and its implications for our health.
While it is commonly believed that white flour contributes to weight gain, the science behind this phenomenon is complex. Einstein’s famous quote, “knowing and understanding are two very different things,” rings true in this context. The detrimental effects of white flour on our health are not merely based on speculation but are supported by scientific research. The high processing of white flour removes the bran and germ, stripping it of essential nutrients and fiber, making it less filling and more likely to be overconsumed. This, in turn, can lead to weight gain and obesity. By delving into the scientific reasoning behind the links between white flour and obesity, we can make more informed choices about our diet and overall health.
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.
Consuming white flour can lead to several issues due to its lack of fiber content. One of the primary concerns is related to digestive health. Without enough fiber, white flour can cause constipation and other digestive problems as it moves through the digestive tract more slowly and inefficiently. Additionally, the absence of fiber in white flour can trigger allergies in some individuals, leading to adverse reactions and discomfort.
Furthermore, white flour can have negative effects on metabolism and overall health. The refined nature of white flour can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to a subsequent crash that leaves you feeling tired and sluggish. This rollercoaster effect can disrupt normal metabolic processes and contribute to weight gain over time. Moreover, white flour consumption has been associated with stomach inflammation and, in more serious cases, may even be linked to chronic conditions like arthritis and heart disease.
In conclusion, limiting white flour intake and opting for whole grain alternatives can significantly benefit your health and well-being. Incorporating high-fiber foods into your diet can support healthy digestion, reduce the risk of allergies and chronic diseases, and help maintain a steady metabolism. Making mindful choices when it comes to the type of flour you consume can have a positive impact on your overall health in the long run.
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.
Without insulin, the body is unable to effectively utilize carbohydrates, leading to a cascade of issues in energy metabolism. Insulin plays a crucial role in converting glucose to glycogen for energy production. When insulin is deficient, as in the case of Type 1 diabetics or individuals with insulin resistance, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream instead of being utilized by the body’s working muscles. This build-up of glucose can lead to an accumulation of body fat, as the excess sugar is stored as fat rather than being used for energy production.
In individuals with healthy insulin receptors, once glycogen is taken from good carbohydrate sources, the body can efficiently metabolize stored body fat for energy, provided that the muscles have enough fuel. However, Type 1 diabetics lacking insulin regulation struggle to effectively lose body fat through this process. Instead, any weight loss experienced by these individuals is more likely to be a loss of muscle mass (atrophy), which can result in a high excess of loose skin. Without insulin to facilitate the proper metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, the body’s energy balance is disrupted, making it challenging for individuals to maintain a healthy body composition and overall well-being.
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.
Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is essential for overall health, especially for individuals with diabetes – whether they have type 1 (insulin-dependent) or type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. A crucial aspect of achieving this balance is through a healthy, balanced diet that primarily consists of complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs have the advantage of releasing glucose into the bloodstream gradually, providing a sustained source of energy. This slow release of glucose helps prevent sudden spikes or crashes in insulin levels, which in turn aids in keeping blood sugar levels stable. Additionally, by opting for complex carbohydrates, individuals can avoid the body’s reliance on burning fat due to drastic fluctuations in glucose levels, ultimately supporting better weight management.
For individuals with diabetes, the importance of including complex carbohydrates in their diet cannot be understated. By choosing foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables over simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, such individuals can better manage their blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes. The sustained energy provided by complex carbs promotes a more balanced and stable internal environment, allowing individuals to better control their insulin levels and overall health. Therefore, by focusing on a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, individuals with diabetes can better manage their condition and support their overall well-being in the long run.
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/