Starchy carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, so they need to be included in a healthy, balanced diet. They should make up roughly one-third of our diet. However, it’s important to understand the different types of starchy carbohydrates and which ones are the healthier options.
The starchy carbohydrates food group includes potatoes and grains such as wheat, barley and rice. Grains can be used to make flour, which in turn is used to make foods such as bread, pasta and cereal.
When choosing starchy carbs, opt for wholegrain where possible. Wholegrain carbs contain more nutrients and fibre so they take longer to break down into sugars (glucose).
This means energy is released more slowly to give us more sustained energy rather than sugar highs and lows. Foods high in fibre may also help us to feel fuller.
Fibre is also classed as a type of carbohydrate, and is mainly found in plant-based foods. It helps to keep our digestive system healthy – aim to eat at least 30g of fibre a day. Even though we can’t break it down, fibre is really important to keep us healthy.
There are two types:
• Insoluble fibre: found in wholegrains, as well as the skins of vegetables and fruit. Insoluble fibre helps food to pass along our digestive tracts, keeping us regular and our guts healthy.
• Soluble fibre: found in oats, pulses, apples, potatoes and other vegetables and fruit. It can help to keep our blood glucose levels under control by slowing down the rate of glucose absorption, and can help to lower our cholesterol levels and keep our hearts healthy by helping to remove bad cholesterol from the body.
Grains are hard, dried seeds that we harvest for food. They’re popular all over the world because they’re easy to store and transport, and they last longer than other starchy foods. Grains contain three parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
There are two categories of grains:
• Wholegrains: the grains remain whole, as they are when they’re harvested (nothing has been taken away).
• Refined grains: the grains go through a process called milling, which removes the germ and bran – the bran is the outer layer of the grain and the germ is the reproductive part of the grain. When these parts are removed, fibre and nutrients are lost.
Research shows that eating wholegrains (rather than refined grains) reduces the risk of stroke, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. They usually contain more fibre and essential micronutrients than refined grains, too.
Read the label to make sure you’re getting an authentic wholegrain – you need to look for the wording: “100% wholegrain” or “100% wholewheat”. Or choose foods that name one of the following at the beginning of the ingredients list: wholemeal flour, brown rice, bulgur wheat, oatmeal, wholegrain corn, whole oats, whole rye, wild rice, wholewheat.
Be aware that foods labelled multigrain, stone-ground, 100% wheat, seven-grain or bran are not usually wholegrain.
Choose wholegrain couscous, brown rice, wholewheat bread or pitta and wholewheat pasta over refined alternatives. Quinoa can be a great choice, too – it’s not a grain, but it’s eaten in the same way.