Which are good and bad sources of carbohydrates?
In our food industry there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbohydrates, mostly bad unfortunately. There is a huge difference between the white, highly processed, sliced bread that is so popular amongst the UK consumers and the simple, fresh, whole meal bread. The whole grains are a great source of nutritious carbs that should be part of our diet. However due to the way wheat and other crops have been modified over the years, an increasing number of people are deciding to adopt a wheat-free diet and for good reasons. A large number of studies link wheat and gluten to different health problems, including weight gain.
Not many people (including myself) are ready to give up bread and you shouldn’t, all you need to do is educate yourself about what bread is best to buy and eat it in moderation. Here is some useful information that will help you make a better, smarter choice when it comes to bread, pasta and cereals.
Good: Complex carbs
Complex carbs are absorbed slowly by our system and they are a great source of fibre. The longer it takes for our body to absorb the food we eat, the longer our metabolism is active. These carbs don’t spike our sugar levels as fast as the bad carbs. We can find complex carbohydrates in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.
Bad: Simple carbs
Simple carbs are in heavily processed foods like white bread, biscuits, pastries and other foods that contain lots of refined grains. Often these foods contain lots of refined sugar as well. They tend to make us feel hungry quicker due to the lack of nutritional ingredients and the spike in sugar levels they cause. The unbalanced consumption of these types of foods can lead to weight gain and sadly diseases such as diabetes.
Often the separation between complex and simple carbs is not enough to determine exactly the effect of the different foods on our blood sugar levels. This is where the glycemic index is used and each food is assigned a GI of 0 to 100 to indicate how quickly a food spikes our sugar levels. The lower the number, the better for us. Low-GI foods normally have a GI below 50, like most fruits and vegetables. Any food with over 70 GI should be avoided and consumed with moderation.
If you eat bread, you need to be aware of how much you eat daily and what bread you buy. The problem is that commercial bread is full of preservatives, artificial colours (to make it look brown and ‘healthy’ or very white and fresh), dough conditioners to improve volume and other harmful ingredients. It will be difficult to find a truly healthy bread as the majority of it is made from refined carbohydrates. Even gluten-free bread is not always a healthier option as most of these breads are very high in glycaemic index (a high GI helps elevate blood-pressure). Read more about why most mainstream breads are bad and why they cause weight gain.
The wholewheat bread illusion: “if it’s brown, it’s healthy”. However just because a bread is brown or because it says wholewheat that doesn’t mean it is 100% wholewheat, but it means that it just contains some percentage of wholewheat flour and the rest is white flour. Some of the breads labelled as “wholewheat/grain” contain as little as 6% whole grains and the rest is white flour and colour. The bread with a higher percentage of whole grains and no artificial additives and preservatives is a better option than the white processed bread. Here are some things to look out for when choosing your bread.
Which bread is healthy?
APPEARANCE AND TEXTURE
The appearance should be your first clue but you always need to read the label. Some brands put a lot of effort into making their bread look healthy when in reality it’s full of artificial ingredients.
What bread to buy?
Wholegrain & rye bread
There are a lot of wholegrain breads in the supermarkets, but unfortunately most of them should be avoided. The traditional German rye bread is normally a good choice, but most UK supermarkets don’t have freshly baked pure rye breads. You are likely to find good quality, traditional breads in bakeries only.
You can find this rye bread on amazon and several supermarket chains, however it’s just not as tasty as freshly baked bread:
Biona Rye Organic Pumpkin Seed Bread.
Ancient Grains breads
Einkorn wheat, emmer, spelt and kamut are ancient type of grains that unlike the common wheat have been able to preserve more of its nutrients over time. Bread from these ancient grains is normally less-processed and is richer in protein and fibre. Some bakeries have breads with these ancient grains, but you can also find some very good organic breads online from Abel & Cole like the Kamut bread, which ingredients are shown on the picture above. If you would like to make your own bread, try my simple protein spelt bread.
Sprouted wheat is also another very good bread option. These breads have much more protein than regular wholegrain bread (10 to 12 g per 100 g) as well as vitamins and other minerals: Everfresh Sprouted Wheat Organic Bread
White or wholegrain pasta?
Wholegrain (brown) pasta is higher in fibre, protein and less processed than the white regular pasta. If you want to lead a healthier diet, it’s a good idea to consume brown pasta more often than white. Wholegrain pasta normally has a GI of 32, while white is about 42. Enjoy it, but be mindful of how often you eat pasta as it is one of those foods that people tend to eat too often, because it’s easy to prepare and very delicious.
Dried or Fresh pasta?
None is a bad choice, but here is the difference between the two types and why you might consider one over the other.
Dried pasta is made from finely ground semolina flour and water and it is left to dry at a low temperature to allow all moisture to evaporate. Because of its firm structure, it is perfect for those hearty sauces we love (like my veggie tomato sauce). Because it’s dried, it has a longer shelf life, without any preservatives.
Fresh pasta is usually made from flour and eggs and is produced locally. It is ideal for light white sauces because of its tender texture and it also takes half the time to cook than dried pasta. However fresh pasta is not suitable for vegans as it contains eggs and can’t be stored for a very long time.
If you are looking for wheat & gluten-free pasta, rice and corn flour pasta are great choices as they are naturally gluten-free. They are very tender, which is why I normally prefer brown rice pasta as it has a slightly firmer texture. Another option is spiralizing veggies into delicious noodles.
Cereal products are also a great source of vitamins, iron and of course fibre. However as you probably know by now, it depends which cereal products you buy as many products are refined, GMO with low whole grain content. Rice, oats, quinoa are all examples of popular nutritious grains that contribute to a healthy diet.
Rice is a grain that most of us eat quite often, which is great, but you might want to consider switching to brown (wholegrain) rice if you are eating white. There is no difference between white and brown rice in terms of calories, but there is a big difference in the nutritional content. Because of the way white rice is produced (more layers of the grain are removed) it lacks some very valuable minerals: vitamin B1 and B3, magnesium, iron, rice bran oil and fibre. As a comparison one cup (195 g) of cooked long grain brown rice contains 84 mg of magnesium while one cup of white rice contains 19 mg.
However, rice is one of the top 3 GMO crops produced mostly in Asian countries. If you can’t find organic by any chance then buy rice produced in Europe, check the country of origin (usually Italy). There is no GMO rice produced in Europe.
Whole oats are the prefect breakfast, they are high in potassium, fibre, iron and magnesium. They have been studied to help lower cholesterol and have proven to facilitate your appetite for longer unlike processed carbs. These rolled oats are very good for muesli and granola – Gluten Free Wholegrain Pure Oats. Turn them into the perfect breakfast with some yogurt or milk and fresh fruits.
Quinoa is very high in protein, it doesn’t contain gluten and is full of minerals! You can make some great tasty and nutritious recipes with quinoa like my ones below. If you haven’t included this grain in your diet yet, make sure to try it! It’s becoming very popular amongst western consumers and for good reasons.
- Easy seafood quinoa paella
- Mediterranean quinoa stuffed butternut squash
- Easy gluten-free walnut brownie (with quinoa flour)
There are plenty of breakfast cereal brands out there and most of them are definitely something we shouldn’t be having for breakfast even though they are labelled as “high in fibre” or “slimmer waist” and so on. Most of them are high in sugar, full of processed carbohydrates and barely have any nutritious whole grains. Breakfast cereals in general are high in sugar and have many additives that are not recommended if you are after a healthy breakfast. You can read more about breakfast cereals here – The truth about Kellogg’s Special K and other breakfast cereals.