Carbs in general have got a bit of a bad name in the foodie world. But although it is true that many types of carbohydrates contain empty calories that can lead to weight gain, if you’re sensible about the types of carbohydrates you choose, there is no reason why they should be the devil in your diet.
Just apply the same theory here as you do with fats, and make sure that the majority of your carbohydrates are eaten in their whole form: as whole grains. Before I get started on how great whole grains are, I should probably clear up what a grain is, and why choosing wholegrain carbs is the better, more nutritious choice.
Grains are hard, dried seeds that are harvested for food. In their natural form, they exist in three parts: the germ, the bran and the endosperm. Whole grains are those that are in their natural form when they are eaten, with all three parts still present. Refined grains go through a process called milling which removes both the germ; the reproductive part of the grain, and the bran; the outer layer of the grain. When these parts of the grain are removed, a lot of the nutrients and fibre are lost with them.
When it comes to everyday food such as bread, pasta and cereals, there are notable differences in the nutrients present between refined and wholemeal versions.
A lot of people start their day with toast, and a simple switch of white bread to brown means you are seriously upping your fibre intake from around 0.5-1g per slice to between 3-4g per slice. Given that it’s recommended we eat around 30g of fibre today (the majority of us get nowhere near!), making this small change is one step towards hitting that target. Fibre helps waste food to pass through our gut, keeping our digestive systems happy. Products with more fibre in take longer to digest and are slow releasing, which in turn means we have a more sustained level of energy, so we are less likely to reach for sugary snacks throughout the day.
White wheat flour is now required by law to be fortified (the process of adding nutrients to food) with certain vitamins and minerals, to try to make up for the nutrients lost during the milling process. Despite this, wholemeal products are, on average, still more nutritious and have significantly higher levels of certain minerals than white bread, including phosphorus, which we need to keep our bones and teeth healthy. Iron is also significantly higher in wholemeal products such as bread and pasta than in the refined versions – a nutrient which many women in particular do not get enough of. Many B-vitamins, for example, niacin and riboflavin, which we need for nervous and metabolic system function, are also higher in wholemeal versions of products like pasta and bread.
Integrating wholegrain into your diet is super simple: all carbohydrates have a whole version so there is no excuse! Even if you just do it half the time you are still making a massive difference to your nutrient and fibre intake, and every little helps!